Tag Archives: Willow

Cultural Catchup Project: One Past, Two Perspectives (Buffy and Angel)

One Past, Two Perspectives

July 26th, 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.

Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter has said that he has no intention of ever using flashbacks for the FX series, which some might find odd considering how much of the series is based on an earlier generation of conflict regarding SAMCRO’s founder, John Teller. However, each season of the series has a tightly constructed arc, and so much of its drama depends on capturing the intensity of the Sons’ daily lives that flashing back would likely disrupt any sense of momentum.

And yet, for network series with similarly complex backstories, flashback episodes are almost a necessity: with 22 episodes to deliver each year, as opposed to the 13 offered on cable, flashbacks are a good way to kill some time between major story arcs, or fill in some necessary exposition heading into a new story arc, or to simply have some fun by featuring a character who everyone seems to enjoy. “Fool to Love” and “Darla” are both flashback episodes, and even flash back to the same scenes in two instances, but they represent two distinct types of flashback episodes, which becomes clear when watched together (as they would have originally aired).

I want to talk a bit about how each series uses its respective flashback episode as a standalone piece, but I also want to look at how they work as parts of their respective seasons: while “Darla” is very clearly part of the series’ narrative arc, “Fool for Love” has a unique relationship with the momentum built by “No Place Like Home” and “Family” which offers a different take on the potential function of flashbacks.

Continue reading

105 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

Cultural Catchup Project: The Functionality of Ms. Dawn Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

The Functionality of Ms. Dawn Summers

July 19th, 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.

The conclusion to “Buffy vs. Dracula” is one of those moments where I wish I could go back in time and experience it without any future knowledge: the somewhat divisive introduction of Dawn Summers into the series’ narrative was something which I have known about since I started the series, but I had no idea that it was first introduced like this.

I had the benefit of being able to watch “Real Me” before writing about “Buffy vs. Dracula,” but if I had been a critic at the time, and if I had been following the usual episodic review strategy, I don’t know how I would have managed to really analyze the premiere without diverting the discussion towards “WTF”-like exclamations in regards to the conclusion. Every season begins with an uncertainty about what is about to follow, but the way Dawn is dropped into the narrative is the sort of risk which seems brazen to the point of self-destruction.

Through the first Disc of the season, the details surrounding Dawn’s arrival remain shrouded in mystery beyond a few clues, but her function within the story is much more apparent. She is an excuse to step outside of the comforts of the Scoobies, rethinking what it means to be a part of the group and seeing the existing dynamics in a new light.

And in a way, she’s sort of like Lost’s Flash Sideways.

Continue reading

93 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

Cultural Catchup Project: “Buffy vs. Dracula” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Buffy vs. Dracula”

July 16th, 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.

“Buffy vs. Dracula” is both a thematic companion for and a definite departure from the series’ past. The last two premieres have featured Buffy facing questions about her identity (in “Anne” and “The Freshman”), and her altercation with Dracula is built around similar questions; however, whereas it seemed as if Buffy was struggling to stay afloat amidst the world changing around her at the start of the third and fourth seasons, here she seems to be struggling within, gaining new perspectives on her power and its control over her actions and desires. In that sense, the episode represents a clear continuation, and evolution of numerous elements at play within the fourth season, especially within the First Slayer’s appearance in “Restless.”

However, at the same time, “Buffy vs. Dracula” is also a tad bit silly. I won’t go so gar as to say that it is cheesy, but there’s a clear disconnect between the Dracula who takes part in Buffy’s story and that character’s influence on the rest of the episode. While the core idea of Dracula’s involvement is well executed by Marti Noxon (the first writer to take on a premiere other than Whedon), the rest of the episode relies on comic scenarios which are not so much unwelcome as they are incongruous with the episode’s central function. While it isn’t a departure for the series to engage with comedy, the way it is deployed in the episode rather lazily fills in the gaps between the dramatic scenes, failing to integrate the two parts of the episode successfully and truly live up to its potential, potential which nonetheless remains clear based on the strength of the eponymous comparison.

Continue reading

76 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

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

“Restless”

July 12th, 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.

There have been a few points in this project where my thoughts on Buffy and Angel have diverged from the general sentiments of the commenters, and I am very glad for this fact: I like that there’s some disagreement, as it allows for new perspectives and for intriguing discussion.

However, I do wish that two of those points hadn’t come in such close proximity with one another, as they have with “To Shanshu in L.A.” and “Restless.” Leading into these episodes, a lot of comments were building up the hype for these hours of television, suggesting that the former was a major turning point for the series and that the latter was on a level with “Hush,” and inevitably I feel that both episodes fail to live up to those lofty expectations.

While I thought “To Shanshu in L.A.” was inherently flawed in terms of how it exaggerated certain developments for the sake of thematic convenience, my issue with “Restless” is that it doesn’t live up to the hype, ending up more generic than I had expected. While the central idea of the episode is well-executed, and I can see the seeds of where the show intends to go with the show’s fifth season, I expected the episode to mean something, for its oddities to coalesce into something tangible which would speak coherently to either the season we just witnessed or the one which is yet to come – instead, the episode coalesces into a pretty typical monster of the week storyline which happens to use dreams as its central construct.

This is not to say that some of the dreams aren’t successful, or that the episode isn’t well-executed, but rather that the same quality which made “Hush” so effective, its connection with ongoing storylines, feels lost when the abstraction gives way to a storyline which fails to capture the full potential of this premise.

Continue reading

142 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

Cultural Catchup Project: Stuck in a Story You Can Get Out Of (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Stuck in a Story You Can Get Out Of

July 9th, 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.

I knew of Season Four’s somewhat divisive nature before I started watching it, but I’m sort of glad for this knowledge: while going in unspoiled might have created a more visceral response to the material, I’ve found it quite stimulating to be able to sort of reconstruct the initial disappointment with the season while I’m experiencing it for the first time. I think watching it on DVD, inevitably, won’t create the same sort of response that viewers experienced back at the turn of the century, as watching at this pace the season’s low points go by pretty quickly and are largely overshadowed by some really strong individual episodes sprinkled throughout the season. I’ve seen the moments when fans would begin to be frustrated, but I’ve yet to see anything that would really turn me against the season, and heading into the final series of episodes I was anticipating something to really change my mind.

However, I’ve watched up to “Primeval” with only the much-beloved “Restless” waiting for me, and I’ve yet to see anything here which really cripples Season Four. I still have plenty of reservations about Adam, and the Initiative, and how wacky and incoherent much of “Primeval” ends up being as a result of its focus on those elements, but this season was never at any point in time about those elements. Every now and then the series would get too caught up in these particular parts of the season, but it was common for the show to step out of them entirely, able to deliver the genius of “Superstar” or return to Oz’s storyline in “New Moon Rising” without feeling as if the overarching storyline was being neglected.

The relative insignificance of the Initiative and Adam is at once the season’s greatest failure and its redemptive quality: while it keeps the season from reaching anywhere close to the Mayor’s arc in the third season, the fact that it doesn’t truly dominate the season’s narrative allows for the subtle character transformations unfolding to rise to the surface, keeping the intriguing but ultimately underdeveloped Initiative storyline secondary to the parts of the show which really matter.

Continue reading

64 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

Cultural Catchup Project: One Faith, Three Narratives (Buffy and Angel)

One Faith, Three Narratives

July 8th, 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.

When I wrote about the first crossover between Buffy and Angel, I wrote that it wasn’t so much a crossover as it was ancillary elements (a returning Spike, the Gem of Amara) crossing between the two series and created largely independent stories which happened to share a basic foundation. However, Spike was a fun villain at that time as opposed to a neutered anti-hero, and the Gem of Amara was a simple MacGuffin without much meaning, so the episodes were meaningful less for what crossed over and more for the stories which those elements created for each series’ respective arc.

As we arrive at the final crossover event (stretching, technically, over five episodes) of the season, what’s clear is that the rules have changed: while the awakened Faith is, like Spike, a character-based connection between the two worlds, it is a connection with much more baggage than Spike’s villainy, and one with wide-reaching complications for both narratives. Whedon is very interested in Faith’s story, which remains diverse and compelling over the course of these episodes, but he is acutely aware of the different role her story plays in each series: while there is technically a clear thread which charts Faith’s behaviour over the course of the four episodes in which she appears, there is a distinction between how much each series focuses on her story as opposed to the story of those around her.

The result is three separate stories, unquestionably connected but distinct in terms of their sense of momentum. While a single narrative of Faith’s awakening stretches over both series, and Buffy and Angel travel back and forth between the two shows working out some of their lingering issues, Faith’s impact on Buffy’s narrative (in “This Year’s Girl” and “Who Are You”) is very different from Faith’s impact on Angel’s narrative (in “Five by Five” and “Sanctuary”), her story finding the series in two very different places which result in unique consequences.

For Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Faith’s return is a continuation of a past storyline and a thematic reminder for the series’ ongoing arc; for Angel, Faith’s return is a turning point for the series’ sense of narrative momentum and character dynamics. Throw in Faith’s individual narrative, and you’ve got the sort of television event that you don’t see every day, and one which helps justify the decision to watch the two series simultaneously even in its quasi-fractured structure.

Continue reading

73 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

Cultural Catchup Project: Taking a Turn in Season Four (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Taking a Turn in Season Four

July 4th, 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.

In discussing this series of episodes as a collective whole, I am neither making a commentary on their individual merits nor suggesting that they are all working towards the same thematic purpose. Rather, as I noted in my most recent “Angel” post, I want to talk about the two-parters in their own posts, and so I’m sort of forced to lump these together to avoid going overboard with the reviews (not that you’d mind, but I do need to spread out my time). Plus, the plot moves so quickly in this series of episodes that it’s hard to really write about them individually after watching a number of them in succession: any of the positivity at the end of “Doomed” is complicated by “The I in Team” and “Goodbye Iowa,” to the point where I need to consider the progress of the arcs as a whole rather than the individual segments.

And so before I take a brief glimpse at “A New Man” individually (since it doesn’t have much to do with these arcs, even as it intersects with them in subtle ways), I want to focus on Riley, Maggie and Adam at this important juncture of Buffy’s fourth season, where the series very quickly transitions from a pretty open-ended season structure to a clear, objective-driven protagonist/antagonist structure, albeit one which remains complex (although perhaps not as complex as I might have liked).

Continue reading

120 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

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

“Hush”

July 1st, 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.

I’ve fairly certain I’ve seen the final few minutes of “Hush” before.

It was some time early in the decade, and Canada’s SPACE was airing the “Top 10 Buffy Episodes” in a day-long marathon which my brother was either watching or recording. I have no memory of watching an entire episode, or even which episodes I was seeing, but I remember Riley crouched down in some sort of crawl space with a gun, and I recognized the Gentlemen in that vague type of recall which is created when you aren’t really paying attention to what you’re watching.

I don’t know if I want to go back in time a la the Doctor and force myself to sit down for the entirety of that marathon, as watching the episode out of order would rob it of some of its appeal, but I do certainly wish that I could go back in time and experience this with everyone else at the turn of the century. More than any other episode of Buffy so far, I wish that I could have been there to write a review and to analyze the myriad of ways in which this is easily the most well-executed hour of television Buffy has produced to this point. While other episodes have been more emotionally resonant or explosive, no other episode has felt this expertly and ingeniously crafted. Compelling both as a standalone piece of entertainment and as an advancement of the season’s story arcs, “Hush” didn’t leave me speechless so much as it made me wish that I could go back to the turn of the century and be part of the initial response to what is rightfully heralded as one of the series’ finest moments.

And since I don’t have a TARDIS sitting around, writing about it now will have to do.

Continue reading

77 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

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.

Continue reading

47 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

Cultural Catchup Project: Pulling Back the Curtain (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Pulling Back the Curtain

June 23rd, 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.

I’ve talked a bit along the way about the notion of spoilers as it relates to watching these series. I know enough about Buffy as a whole that there are certain things I have unknowingly committed to memory which have effectively spoiled certain elements of the series. For example, I distinctly remember a marathon of the “Top 10″ Buffy episodes that my brother taped on television at some point early in the decade, and during that time I remember seeing bits and pieces of “Hush,” and “Once More with Feeling!” As a result, there are certain images etched in my mind, in some cases mistakenly (as we learned when I thought it was Cordelia with Xander in “Once More with Feeling”) but in all cases meaningfully. For better or for worse, Buffy’s substantial cultural capital meant that there were things about the show I internalized without fully understanding the context.

In some ways, the Cultural Catchup Project is a dangerous way to watch the show if I’m concerned about further spoilers, but in reality nothing that has been “revealed” by the comments on these posts hasn’t been fairly clearly choreographed by other signifiers. While I remain wary of substantial plot spoilers which may not be so easily predicted, it is only inevitable that watching a series which aired a decade ago and doing so with an observational eye will undoubtedly reveal things that may have surprised other viewers at the time.

So long as the show around them remains entertaining, as it does when Joss Whedon and Co. finally pull back the curtain on Buffy’s fourth season in “Wild at Heart” and (particularly) “The Initiative,” all these subtle spoilers will do is alter the experience from one of shock and surprise to one of appreciation and curiosity. It may not be the same, but it is not definitively less rewarding either, indicating how no one person will view a series in an identical fashion as any other.

Continue reading

78 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project