“The Dark Age”
April 26th, 2010
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Picking up where “Lie to Me” left off in an indirect fashion (actually owing more to “Halloween” in terms of direct connection), “The Dark Age” is an important episode for the series’ negotiation of the student/teacher relationship between Buffy and Giles.
While the events in the episode do a lot in order to add depth to Giles as a character, including complicating his relationship with Ms. Calendar, it makes explicit the parallels between Buffy and Giles’ experiences. Like Buffy, Giles has inherited a responsibility, and there was a time in his life when he threw everything away to run with a bad crowd who happened to awaken some bad magic.
It allows Giles to avoid feeling “above” Buffy’s problems with the demonic, meaning that the show has the potential to both confound and envelop Giles’ character just as easily as it can corrupt and complicate Buffy’s life, a potential which can occasionally result in an episode which feels congruous with past stories but finds some new life by placing Giles at its centre.
One of the things that is really interesting about this season is that there’s some stealth seriality going on. If you were to read basic loglines for “Lie to Me” and “The Dark Age,” the connection wouldn’t be overly clear, and you’d presume that the episode is more or less just a continuation of the Ethan Rayne story from “Halloween.” However, the final scene of “Lie to Me” sets up questions between Buffy and Giles as it relates to maturity and challenges of the future; Giles’ lie, that good and evil are always clear, plays as a broad statement about the series as a whole in that moment, but viewed in the context of “The Dark Age” we realize that Giles was talking about his own past, and his own present.
The story surrounding the Mark of Eyghon isn’t particularly complex: there’s a cult, there’s some tattoos, and there’s some blue goo which transfers into dead (or almost dead) bodies. And the Buffy part of the story, as the character finds herself tricked by the duplicitous Ethan and caught up in the ritual herself, feels like something you’d expect from the show, and it’s no surprise when she breaks free and Willow’s plan to use Angel’s lack of alive-ness to their advantage works like a charm.
However, the Giles side of things is much more interesting: it’s not surprising that the show would have fun with turning Ms. Calendar into a demon in order to play into the fun horror trope of mixing sexual and murderous desires, but it is surprising that they are willing to show Giles as derelict in his duties as Watcher. The story doesn’t force Giles’ hand in terms of abandoning Buffy alone at the blood drop-off; he is so wracked with guilt over his past that he falls into a darkness, another burden he is forced to bear. The idea that Giles didn’t always want to be Watcher, that he was once like Buffy in feeling intense pressure from the responsibility of a destiny, nicely connects the characters, and having Buffy become more mature in order to take care of Giles (and protect him from the weight of his conscience as much as from Eyghon) nicely plays into the apprehensions we saw at the end of “Lie to Me.”
There are a lot of shows which struggle with this sort of generation gap: the show generally uses their differences for the sake of comedy or conflict, whether it’s over what they define as music or their views on the importance of proper study and diligence. However, in this instance, Giles becomes the tortured soul while Buffy becomes his protector, and it allows for their relationship to be something more than student/teacher. They each have a lot to learn from one another, and stories like this nicely play into the dynamism of their relationship both as a standalone piece and as a continuation of themes which have been present, and will continue to be present, throughout the season.
- In case it wasn’t implied, Anthony Stewart Head was pretty damn great in this episode.
- You can spoil me on this: do we ever learn that Angel took that human blood for himself? I think it’s implied that he’s living on pig’s blood, but the awkwardness of the scene made it seem like we were going to go back to it and we never did.
- I see that Ethan is going to be one of those villains (not unlike Spike) who tends to slink away into the shadows as everyone else is getting organized. Scenes like the one in the costume shop are actually very Scooby-Doo esque, except that the villainous types occasionally act in a rational fashion.
- One thing I don’t want spoiled is the fate of Ms. Calendar – she’s obviously shaken by Giles’ past and the fact that it would place her in danger, but I would tend to think that those crazy kids might be able to work it out in the future once she realizes how much that darkness haunts him [I wrote this before I finished watching “Ted,” if you can’t tell]. I am glad, though, that the show was willing to go so far as to show some consequences from the episode’s actions, resisting turning Giles into a completely heroic figure who wins back Ms. Calendar as a result. The show is more tortured than that, which is something I quite admire about it.