The Cultural Catchup Project: “Lie to Me” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Lie to Me”

April 25th, 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.

[Note: I’m wary of trying to shoehorn too many different episodes together this week, especially since a lot of them feel like they deserve to be analyzed more on an individual basis (although I’ll still be taking continuity into account, of course). As a result, I’m going to do some smaller “capsule reviews” for the six-episode stretch between “Lie to Me” and “Bad Eggs” for the next five days, before getting deeper into the season after that point. If it works out, and feedback is good, I might do this every now and then when I’ve got the time – however, if you object to this sort of analysis and would like strictly big ideas, do let me know!]

Written and directed by Joss Whedon, “Lie to Me” is not exactly what one would call a paradigm shift for the series: no new “big bads” are introduced, no major plot developments are revealed, and you could make the argument that what happens in the episode doesn’t fit into any definitions of continuity as a result.

What the episode accomplishes, however, is something more subtle: while “When She Was Bad” indicated that the consequences from Buffy’s near-death experience were not going to be forgotten, “Lie to Me” makes sure we understand that there are going to be more terrifying experiences in the future, and that the show will not shy away from some dark conclusions for the sake of trying to force this series into definitions of good and evil which fail to take into account the show’s inherent liminality.

Whedon’s script doesn’t play around: from the moment that Billy Fordham is introduced, we share Angel’s concern over his sudden appearance, especially his knowledge that Buffy is the slayer. It all seems far too convenient, so Whedon is quick to clearly outline the character’s evil intentions. As a result, we’re right there with Angel as he brings Willow and Xander into the fold to try to figure out what’s going on, and ready to learn how it is that Ford was turned into a demon and came to Sunnydale to take down the Slayer.

However, in an episode that’s all about playing with expectations (Buffy seeing Angel’s meeting with Drusilla as him being unfaithful, the Lonely Ones discovering that pop culture has not exactly depicted vampire culture accurately), Whedon pulls the rug out from under us: Ford isn’t evil so much as he is misguided, driven to his reckless path by terminal brain cancer rather than some sort of evil spirit. It’s a starkly human image of corruption, and that scene with Ford and Buffy in the club discussing the ethics of it all is just really well handled. Ford mapped out his entire story as if it were a movie, from the cheesy lines he shares with Spike (in another great scene) or in his expectation that Buffy will completely understand and perhaps even accept his plan once she learns of his condition.

It is true that the truth is sometimes not enough to solve a situation: Buffy, for example, would probably have rather not known that Angel murdered Drusilla’s entire family in order to drive her insane before eventually siring her. The truth could set you free, certainly, but chances are that it’s just going to confirm how complicated life really is, especially on a Hellmouth. However, as Buffy learns she tells Giles to lie to her about whether things ever get easier in life, lies only mask the complexity of the truth, hiding the hidden vengeance of vampires beneath the shiny surface of cheesy one-liners and eliding the shifting definitions of good and evil for the sake of making one’s life seem easier than it really is.

If one thing is clear in the show’s second season, it’s that Buffy’s life is not easy, and that it is not going to get any easier in the near future – “Lie to Me” makes this point expressly clear, quite ironically doing precisely the opposite of its title by being quite honest with the show’s future trajectory.

Cultural Observations

  • One thing you have to give the show credit for is that despite the humour inherent to Spike’s character, he’s still capable of being quite intimidating, and Ford’s fanboy behaviour around him manages to make him seem both more funny and more intimidating.
  • Relative to my earlier post about Angel/Buffy in the context of Twilight, this episode could easily be remade to follow a bunch of Twi-hards looking to emulate their favourite romance, no?
  • Didn’t realize while watching the episode that Jason Behr was “the guy from Roswell” – the men of Roswell really didn’t pick up as much work as the women, did they?
  • The show is starting to pull together some more continuity – the book that Ford helps the vampires steal (by allowing one to escape in exchange for a meeting with Spike) eventually turns out to be the Du Lac manuscript, which plays an important role in “What’s My Line.”
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39 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

39 responses to “The Cultural Catchup Project: “Lie to Me” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

  1. Nawid Ahrary

    Damn, you are already as far as me (just watched What’s My Line today after giving up on Buffy a while back). Hopefully these single reviews help me catch up.

  2. Eric

    “I’m wary of trying to shoehorn too many different episodes together this week, especially since a lot of them feel like they deserve to be analyzed more on an individual basis”

    While BtVS is definitely more serialized as time goes on, individual episodes are still often important and significant, and worth individual consideration, particularly since their significance can often become obvious only later. “Halloween” is an example.

    • Tausif Khan

      I agree with Eric on this point.

      Some of the episodes which are Buffy’s most famous tend to be standalone episodes.

      • Susan

        But even the good stand-alones advance the main story and/or the characters in some way. I’m thinking, say, “Hush,” possibly the best stand-alone. Important character/relationship stuff there.

  3. Tausif Khan

    The part where Angel says “They don’t know how we dress…” and then one of the vampire cultists walks down the stairs wearing the exact same outfit as Angel made me realize Joss Whedon is not just funny but hilarious and that David Boreanaz has really good comedy chops.

    Joss has remarked (during the making of Firefly) that no one can go faster from comedy to drama faster than Nathan Fillion with the possible exception of James Marsters.

    WB thoughts:
    I have a feeling that there were a pool of WB supporting actors that went to all WB casting calls. See the career of Chad Michael Murray and the formation of the whedonverse.

    Also besides Katherine Heigl which women of Roswell are you referring to? Remember also Colin Hanks had a supporting role on Roswell.

    • Eldritch

      I think Heigl’s success has over shadowed any of the other women starring in the series. Shiri Appleby and Majandra Delfino have both continued working, but haven’t achieved the name recognition Heigl has.

  4. Ahhh… I almost felt sorry for Ford, but not as much as for Buffy when she realised she’d been betrayed by someone she truly trusted! 😦

    And don’t forget the face of the ditzy blond from the “Lonely Ones” group… she’ll be back! 😉 (talk about seemingly inconsequential secondary characters returning for key roles later on…)

    • Eldritch

      A boy dying of brain cancer gets less sympathy than a healthy girl being told what the boy believes to be a necessary lie.

      I’m not sure I get that logic.

      • Gill

        Because the boy in question is ready to help the massacre of large numbers of people in order to achieve his ends?

        • Eldritch

          Yeah, I get that. In one of the previous “Cultural Catchup Project” topics, I said that one of the neat things about “Buffy” is how Whedon gives depth to many characters, even some villains, so you can understand why they do things EVEN IF THEIR ACTS ARE REPREHENSIBLE.

          What the boy does is reprehensible. Nevertheless, his motivation is understandable. He’s dying of brain cancer and he desperately wants to save as much of his life as he can.

          Even if his acts are unforgivable, can’t you find sympathy for his situation and his fear of dying?

          • Gill

            Oh, indeed, I feel sorry for him – but you wrote: ”

            A boy dying of brain cancer gets less sympathy than a healthy girl being told what the boy believes to be a necessary lie.

            I’m not sure I get that logic.”, and surely the logic is that his motivation, though understandable, is more than reprehensible, as he is ready to sacrifice untold other lives for the chance of extending his own. Surely that is why he gets less sympathy – not the brain cancer bit but the ruthlessness of putting yourself first, which makes him metaphorically vampiric even before he has been turned.

  5. Gill

    Continuity becomes increasinly important as you go on with this show – there will be references to “Hallowe’en” well into the final series, and to this episode in the last episode of “Angel” – that’s how interwoven the continuity is. Whedon also has a habit of reusing actors he identifies as having a certain special “something”, which accounts for some of the joy greeting particular performers in “Dollhouse”.

    Still thoroughly enjoying your take on the show, though I’m looking forward to the point where it really takes off.

    • Tausif Khan

      While there is great continuity which makes the show enjoyable. Mythos was always adjusted to fit the stories that could be told.

      • Gill

        Absolutely – and quite a lot of back-forming too – they looked at earlier episodes to pick up on things they could use later. Hence the interesting development of minor characters seen this early.

  6. Austin

    Hey! I am loving watching someone going through these series for the first time. I am enjoying your very insightful observations. To general questions: Is Firefly on your list to watch? You could knock that out in a week or two easy, although I think that show deserves more of a episode by episode analysis since it is by far the least serial of Joss’ shows. Also I know that you have decided to lump in Angel with your watching of Buffy. I would strongly urge you to watch all of Buffy before then going back and watching all of Angel. That is how I did it, and I think it works much better because as you said, it is mostly about tracking characters which would be much more difficult trying two track two different groups of characters, though I’m sure it is possible. There are really only three main crossovers in Buffy S4 and Angel S1. I can provide you with a list of the Buffy episodes you would want to re-watch and when in order to refresh you memory (there are five) before watching the next Angel ep. Again, in my opinion, Buffy stands very well on its own and you can watch it exclusively, taking the appearances of Angel as they come naturally, where as on Angel you are a little more in the dark unless you are aware of what is going on in Sunnydale. The alternative, watching one episode of Buffy and then one of Angel then back and forth, will actually confuse you because some events are split up by a few episodes and they aren’t necessarily occurring at the same time.

    • I’m still unsure of how I’m handling the Angel strategy, so thanks for the advice.

      And while I haven’t blogged about it, since I watched it before the blog existed, I have already seen (and loved) Firefly.

      • I agree with Austin. Everything he just said.

      • Austin

        I would still vote for an episode by episode review of Firefly, even if it is a re-watch. Come on there aren’t that many, of course you would have to round it out with Serenity.

        On the subject of Angel, I just lent both my box sets to a buddy who enjoyed Dollhouse and has heard me talk about Firefly (I lent him those disks too) Anyways, he is following the same recommendation I gave you, so I made up a list for him of what episodes are crossovers, there are minor spoilers – very minor – so I’m not going to post it or anything but I can send you it if/when you decide how to proceed.

        • deducter

          I disagree, I actually think there is significant reason to watch Angel and Buffy side by side, there are a lot of little details that are very easy to forget if you don’t (necessitating a more confusing rewatching of episodes). Especially in Buffy S4 and Angel S1, plots in one show are wrapped up in the other, and vice versa. Even in Buffy S5 and Angel S2, there are some very subtle reasons to watch them in order (such as the additional back stories of Spike/Angel occur in the same week of airing). Plus Angel S1’s characters (sans 1) were all introduced in Buffy, and so you might be asking yourself, “whatever happened to so and so?” Whedon is very good about his main characters, none of them just disappear without a good reason.

          I really consider Buffy and Angel to be the same show. I don’t think you can talk about one without talking about the other. It is difficult to say without spoilers why exactly you should watch them side by side. I think it is worth the hassle.

          • Two things:

            First, I think it depends on the person. I did not get anything new out of watching the crossover episodes side by side that I didn’t get the first time watching them separately; I have a good memory for visual images. If you DON’T have a good memory for that kind of stuff then certainly watching them together is a good idea.

            Second, I completely disagree that Buffy and Angel are the same show. They have almost completely different purposes. Where Buffy is about power and responsibility coming from “unlikely” places, Angel is all about redemption. It is a much darker show, with a much darker message. Buffy’s journey as a heroine is about coming to terms with her identity and the responsibility that she bears, and ultimately, learning that sharing that power is the right answer. Angel, in stark contrast, learns that evil can never be beaten and that you have to fight every day, all day, for forgiveness, for the chance to stay alive . . . you never win. Those are two very different shows to me.

            For Myles’s purpose (cultural and critical thinking about both shows) I think watching the shows separately would be a great idea (not necessary,maybe, but worth thinking about).

          • Austin

            Again, as i tried to say, there ARE a few episodes (five in S4, one or two in S5) of buffy that I recommend be re-watched at certain points while you are watching Angel in order to get that true continuity feeling. Those are the only instances where you really need to be reminded of what happened in Sunnydale to fully appreciate what is going on in LA. Once more I have that list (I am fairly certain it is comprehensive) I can email it or post it if you want it.

      • Firefly is the best series that I have seen from Whedon so far, and they cut it off way too quick (darn those folks at Fox!). Serenity, the movie was also a hit for my husband and I. We purchased both the series and movie, and I’d have to say that a re-watch is definitely worth it. Although I doubt it would create more traffic for this blog, it would certainly make your Joss Whedon fans happy!

    • Beth

      I agree. I really don’t think it matters that much, if you have a decent memory. I also agree that if you watch “Buffy” and “Angel” separately (“Buffy” first) you can get more into the characters and their journeys, especially after the first season of “Angel”. Considering that a lot of significant things happen in both shows that aren’t even mentioned in the other (oh, say, certain characters in “Angel” that you would think Buffy would care about, or various apocolypses happening in one show that are not discussed in the other), they are pretty much separate shows with occasional crossovers, mostly from “Angel” to “Buffy” after the first season of “Angel” until after “Buffy” finished. In short, I prefer watching them separately.

    • Carlie

      I COMPLETELY disagree. Seasons 1 and 2 of Angel/4 and 5 of Buffy were explicitly written to take into account that the two series aired one right after another on the WB. While they are not remotely the same series, with completely different purposes, they are still meant to be watched together. After Buffy’s move to UPN, I would argue that it becomes less important, because while the series’ still occur in the same universe, they are no longer written specifically to reinforce each other.
      I’ve been through the series multiple times, and shown it to multiple newbies. Usually I watch each series disc-by-disc (ie one disc of Buffy and then one disc of Angel) until I get to specific cross-over episodes, which I then watch one after the other. Really there are only a couple of places where the cross over really syncs up though – and otherwise, the disc by disc works out fine. 3-4 episodes is enough to not feel jarred by jumping back and forth, but you’re still getting the benefit of watching the shows concurrently.

  7. James

    I really don’t think watching all of Buffy first would be the best way about it. There’s a crucial arc for a certain character that is leveled throughout and their appearance may seem abrupt without that proper bridge between.

    I say watch season four of Buffy and then make your way through Angel. At least, make sure to finish its fourth season before Buffy’s last.

    • I watched Buffy all the way through without watching Angel first, and it went just fine for me. In fact, it went better because I was able to keep the worlds and their tones separated. When it came time for me to watch the two concluding episodes in Angel (I assume you’re referring to “Five By Five” and “Sanctuary”?), [SPOILER] I was very easily able to recall that Faith had just been in Sunnydale wreaking havoc with Buffy’s body.

      There really isn’t any need to watch the two shows together, especially if you’ve got a steel-trap for a memory, like Myles seems to.

  8. James

    *SPOILERS*

    I was actually referring to her appearance in “Salvage” and later “Dirty Girls.”

    • Well, that one works, too. And to clarify, I think watching it crossover style is fun, but I think it would ultimately end up distracting to someone who had never seen either series before.

      • Gill

        It’s worth remembering that the first two seasons of “Angel” were expressly written to air in the slot immediately following S4 and S5 of “Buffy”, so the intention of Mutant Enemy was that they be watched in that order – “In the Dark” very specifically completes the story begun an hour earlier in “Harsh Light of Day”. Because of the way they were shown in Britain I saw “Angel” significantly after “Buffy”, and I think I lost out on a few things at the time.

        • Austin

          That is actually the exception that proves the rule, that is the only episode that flows directly from one to the other, the other crossovers are actually a few weeks (in terms of air dates) apart.

          • rosengje

            Yeah, even the time-line on the This Year’s Girl and Who Are You/Five By Five and Sanctuary crossovers are not entirely in sync.

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  10. JJ

    My two cents’ on the Buffy/Angel crossovers:

    Myles, I’d almost hate for you to review Buffy 4 without watching Angel 1 concurrently. The two seasons use the crossover episodes to deal with similar themes, and so I think you’d miss quite a lot, particularly given the kind of blog this is.

    That said, I would NOT start reviewing Angel at the same time. Go straight through the seven seasons of Buffy, watching Angel 1 (and a few other episodes that I’m sure the commenters will point you to) solely to inform your understanding of Buffy. And then you can start over again with Angel.

    Just my opinion 🙂

  11. “Lie to Me” is one of my favorite episodes of “Buffy” and along with “School Hard” in season two took me from a casual fan to a hard-core Buffy and Joss Whedon fan.

    I’ve re-watched the episode a number of times and am always impressed. As you said, it’s one of those episodes that could easily follow the standard monster of the week path, but it chooses to go into a darker territory. Also, recall at this point in the show, Buffy is feeling alienated from everyone around her and still has the implications of her returning from the dead to deal with. Add to it that everyone she trusts lies to her at some point in the episode (with the big exception of Giles, who Buffy tells to lie to her in the coda) and you’ve got a nice character study. Again, it also foreshadows what’s to come in the second half of the season…..as “When She Was Bad” essentially has the entire season arc of the show played out in one episode but until you see the entire season arc, you miss it entirely.

    Season two of “Buffy” is one of the best seasons of television ever done IMHO. I know a lot of fans point at season three as the epitome, but I love season two. Part of it may be that this was where my love of “Buffy” was first born and the time when I started touting it as one of the best shows on TV to anyone who listen.

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  13. AO

    I watched all of Buffy before watching any of Angel. There are a couple of instances where I think that I missed out by doing so, but overall I’m quite happy with my decision.

    There are a few important crossovers, and a few very minor ones, but the vast majority of Episodes have no overlap between the two shows.

  14. Jac

    i am putting my vote in for season one of Angel being the only necessary time to watch the two Series concurrently

    Buffy started in Oz almost a year after the US and while i made sure to remind myself to watch Season 1 i wasn’t really dissapointed if i missed an episode

    while i enjoyed ‘Halloween’ it wasn’t until i saw ‘Lie to me’ that this show made an emotional impact and stayed with me throughout the next week to the following episode and still now.

    while it didn’t make me a rabid fan – Passion, Becoming, Restless – i discovered tv could rival books in character and scope and not just dialogue, that tv could be more than enjoyable soap ( oh how i thought my love for 90210 was the be all and end all )

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