The Cultural Catchup Project: “What’s My Line Parts 1 & 2” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“What’s My Line Parts 1 & 2”

April 27th, 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 end of what is almost a four-episode arc, the two-part “What’s My Line” manages to play perfectly into Buffy’s crisis of identity which stems from both the concerns regarding maturity and the future in “Lie to Me” and the threads of responsibility and consequences in “The Dark Age.” Buffy has spent a few episodes questioning the life she leads, and the Career Fair does a great job of both crystallizing those concerns and transferring them into the realm of the ordinary teenage girl who wonders about her future.

Just as Giles’ inescapable future as a Watcher led him to leave Oxford and fall in with the wrong crowd in London, Buffy watches her classmates become excited about their future and starts to worry about her own. However, “What’s My Line” introduces so many different roadblocks, including a trio of assassins and the wonder that is Kendra the Vampire Slayer, to her experience that she starts to reconsider what it’s like to live a day in her shoes, and the show nicely unites a potentially chaotic episode within key themes that resonate throughout the second season.

Let’s get this out of the way first: I am fairly certain that Kendra has one of the worst accents I have ever seen on a television show. It reminds me of Gabrielle Anwar’s accent early in Burn Notice, that sort of cross between Irish and something vaguely Caribbean which never settles on anything even close to consistency. I get that they needed to make the character seem somewhat exotic, both to sell her as one of the Order of Taraka and, more importantly, to justify that Giles would not have known about the second slayer being activated (although why, precisely, no one thought to call Giles and ask about Buffy’s safety seems like a bureaucratic oversight which should really be worked out by Slayer HQ. I don’t know why they chose L.A. born Bianca Lawson to play the role if they wanted this sort of international flair to the part, but the accent (and the terrible outfit) made the character a bit of a joke at points, and not in a good way.

It’s unfortunate because I like what Kendra does to Buffy: not only is the bait and switch (where we presume she is the third member of the Orfer) effective in terms of driving the two-part structure, but she is a very different sort of Slayer. While Buffy is out snogging vampires, Kendra isn’t supposed to speak to boys, and where Buffy’s training is largely “on the job” it seems like Kendra has learned more through reading than through monsters suddenly showing up in her high school classroom. Kendra doesn’t go to school and doesn’t have any friends, and Buffy sees that her life is not as dominated by fate and responsibility as it could have been. When Kendra leaves at episode’s end, she tells Buffy that being Slayer is not a job but rather part of them, and it helps Buffy sort out her own priorities: while the show tends to place her normal life in opposition to her position as Slayer (as it was in the case of Kendra, where one side clearly won out), Buffy is all about balance, something which does create conflict but which also allows her to have something approximating a normal life on occasion. Buffy learns to feel at least a tiny bit lucky to have someone like Giles, and friends like Willow and Xander, and someone like Angel, even if there are plenty of other reasons for Buffy to lean towards “FML” this season.

The villain side of this episode, and its actual plot, surrounds Spike and Drusilla’s plan for the manuscript they stole back in “Lie to Me,” as an ancient ritual sacrificing Angel could bring Drusilla back to full strength. While Spike is as fun as ever, and the fight at episode’s end is probably the show’s most successful action setpiece yet, but the best part of this story was Drusilla torturing Angel ahead of the ritual. It works so well because, while we obviously sympathize with Angel, Drusilla is entirely justified: this is the man who murdered her entire family to drive her insane, the man who tormented her before she was turned into a demon herself. She isn’t attacking him for siring her, but rather for destroying everyone else in her life beforehand. It makes Spike and Drusilla’s conflict something that we can relate with, and it keeps their plan from seeming designed to take over the world or even to kill the Slayer: Spike is acting out of love for Drusilla, and Drusilla tortures Angel due to her centuries-long desire for revenge. By giving the villains clear motivating factors that we can understand, and that in some ways mirror Buffy’s motivations in stopping them, Marti Noxon and Howard Gordon really heighten the narrative overall.

However, the biggest development in the episode is perhaps that Xander and Cordelia finally consummate their sexual tension, which is something that has been bugging me forever. See, I’ve seen “Once More, With Feeling,” so I’ve known since the beginning that these two were going to end up in some sort of a relationship (or rather THOUGHT that from my long-ago viewing of that episode that it was in some way implied – turns out I was wrong, but what’re you going to do?), and so I’ve been able to watch the season two episodes and see the little hints (like Cordelia thanking Xander for saving her life from the football Zombie) and know that they were building to this point. The show knows that the relationship doesn’t necessarily make sense on paper, so they don’t try to force it: they used the cheesy romance music to soundtrack their makeout sessions to break down any conceptions that this is true love, and the characters’ romance entirely stems from the tension (both real and romantic) between them which isn’t just going to go away. I’m just glad that the show finally got it out of the way so that I don’t have one of my various picked up facts about the show wearing on me (since I’m wary of spoiling for others following along with me), and Carpenter/Brendan have good chemistry which should play out well in this sort of fashion.

Overall, “What’s My Line” uses the two-part structure to its advantage: it lets it indulge in some “fun” elements (like the various Order of Taraka assassins) while still giving proper service to both the good and evil sides of the story. The episode doesn’t have a whole lot of plot, you’ll notice: Spike and Drusilla’s plan doesn’t have a great deal of twists and turns, and the one twist (Kendra) plays out in a pretty simple fashion. This allows the introspection of the story to remain clear even with a whole lot of action, speaking to the prevailing themes of the season without feeling so burdened that the fun of the episode’s premise is lost.

Cultural Observations

  • Seriously, though: I have to presume that wardrobe intended those purple pants to be a hideous joke, and that this isn’t just late-90s fashion rearing its ugly head, right? Right?
  • I like the introduction of Willy the Snitch: the world of Vampires has become more human-like this season, and I think that an agent who sort of straddles the line is an important way of explaining how the vampires navigate human society the way they do.
  • My one issue with the episode: Seth Green got shot long before I really cared about his character, and the transparency of the relationship with Willow has been too apparent in the early part of this season. I don’t mind Oz as a character, but in an episode which seemed to flow really effectively otherwise it was one part which felt less than fully realized.
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41 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

41 responses to “The Cultural Catchup Project: “What’s My Line Parts 1 & 2” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

  1. Danny

    Cordelia isn’t in the episode “Once More, With Feeling.” I hope that isn’t a spoiler, but at least now you can sigh with relief that you weren’t actually spoiled about something you thought you were spoiled about? So now maybe their hookup is a bit more surprising in retrospect? (Also, that’s what you get for watching that episode so far in advance: character confusion!)

  2. AO

    “although why, precisely, no one thought to call Giles and ask about Buffy’s safety seems like a bureaucratic oversight which should really be worked out by Slayer HQ.”

    There will definitely be more insight into this as the show continues. Though even with that, the Watchers definitely could have used a better long distance calling plan.

    • there’s another example in the 3rd season where you wonder who the hell is in charge of Watcher HQ and why the devil don’t they communicate with the man in charge of what you would expect to be their main asset: the Slayer! The first time they do show up you’re like… “where the hell have you guys been?”

      It’s not as if this were 19th century Buffy and such a thing as TELEPHONES didn’t exist! sheesh!

  3. Susan

    I’ve enjoyed all of your reviews (and am starting to check in a bit too frequently, methinks–oh good, another layer to my Buffy obsession), but I like this one particularly. A few responses:

    With the very notable exceptions of Spike and Dru (both of whom are American), accents on the show are problematic in general, at least early on. Boreanaz struggles a lot at first with his Irish accent in flashback scenes–though he improves considerably through the years.

    The costuming is really great overall, I think (though I was glad when Buffy started wearing her skirts a smidge longer), but yeah, Kendra looks ridiculous. There’s that line, though, in the big fight: “That’s my shirt! That’s my *only* shirt!” which suggests that in this way, too, Kendra is the un-Buffy. No fashion plate she.

    IMO, we’re not supposed to care that Oz gets shot. That’s incidental. In that regard he’s just collateral damage. BUT it’s what pushes Willow over the sizable hump of her shyness. And I love the little moment when they’re on the couch and Oz realizes that he’s sitting next to “that girl.” Subtle but sweet.

    You’ve done “Bad Eggs” and “Ted,” right? So now you’re on to the big guns of the season, “Surprise” and “Innocence” (another 2-parter). Whedon has named “Innocence” his favorite of the entire series. I can’t wait to hear what you think.

    (Something perhaps to note, considering it’s how things would have been experienced if you were watching in 1998: the series was moved to a different time/day slot right between these eps.)

    One of my all-time fave Willow scenes occurs, with Oz, in “Surprise”–the end of the scene right after opening credits.

    • Susan

      I meant that the *actors playing* Spike and Dru are American.

    • AO

      I’m checking in quite often too. But in fairness, he has been posting new threads quite steadily and I’d guess that he won’t slow down once he watches past “Ted” and “Bad Eggs”. A lot of great Episodes coming up.

  4. Ricky B

    I hope commenting on a potentially misremembered perception isn’t a spoiler, but I can’t think of a reason why seeing “Once More With Feeling” would have given away the Xander/Cordelia relationship- unless it was just referenced in passing in that episode, but I don’t remember.

    I am really enjoying your take on Buffy, and switching up between the capsule reviews and the longer thematic pieces seems like a good way to tackle this show.

    • Ricky B

      Oops, I see the Cordelia confusion has already been addressed in an edit while I was typing that comment. My bad.

      Just to add some small bit of substance to this double post: one of the most memorable parts of this episode for me is the reveal of the cop as the third assassin; it genuinely surprised me the first time- and a gun being fired in a school full of bystanders was a little more shocking and tense than your typical attack scene with a vampire in a dark alley.

      • Tausif Khan

        and Jonathan being used as “the one who represents the harm done to the student body”

        • Gill

          I doubt if Myles has recognised that Jonathan and Harmony keep recurring amongst the student body yet. I love the fact that they do!

          • I don’t quite know who Harmony is quite yet, but I would obviously notice Jonathan considering that Danny Strong went on to become a fixture on my television screen via Gilmore Girls. Ye of little faith! 😛

      • Indeed, guns appear so rarely in Buffy it’s really shocking when they do! Much scarier than vampires… 😦

        • Tausif Khan

          Harmony is one of Cordelia’s sycophantic gang of popular people. You will get to know her I don’t know whether you will like her.

          Guns play a huge part in Whedon philosophy since his shows talk so much about violence.

  5. Katie

    You’ll come to care more about Oz as the series progresses. He’s one of my favorites.

    As for Spike/Dru/Angel, you will see that their relationship is waaaaaaay more complicated than you think right now, especially Dru/Angel. It’s not just vengeance… but I won’t be spoilery. Just wait until after Suprise/Innocence. You really get to see the triangle dynamic show its true colors.

    Buckle up, it’s about to become a wild ride after this.

  6. Tausif Khan

    In reference to Kendra’s accent, I originally thought it was bad too, if you listen to the DVD commentary with Marti Noxon she explains that a dialectic coach was hired to give Kendra her accent. Apparently the coach gave her a really specific accent from a really specific area in the Carribean. So maybe it is just our lack of knowledge of accents which leads us to believe it is bad.

    • I’m sticking with “worst accent ever,” although I’ll adjust to “worst coach ever” if that works better for you. 😛

      • Tausif Khan

        I agree with that, cool : )

        • Ricky B

          It is indeed a pretty awful accent, although I’ve heard that many Caribbean accents were influenced by Irish accents, so I suppose that might explain (but not excuse) why a bad attempt at a Caribbean accent might sound a little Irish.

          Surely they could have found an actress who was capable of pulling off the appropriate accent, but I guess they just liked Bianca Lawson from her earlier auditions for other roles on the show.

          • Gill

            Why did they have to make her Jamaican anyway? Why not just from another part of the US? Or Europe if she actually can do accents. Kendra just sounds awful.

          • Tausif Khan

            Bianca Lawson is another person who kind of floated around the WB she later went on to have a role on Dawson’s Creek.

    • I don’t think that anyone, not even Marti Noxon, can successfully describe the disaster that is Kendra in these episodes.

  7. Jac

    Miles i think you may be thinking of Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

    i am probably wrong but when i think of Xander and Cordelia together i think of that episode

    i won’t remind you of it if you have no idea which episode i am referring to

    the magazine SFX did an article on influences in SciFi and Buffy was mentioned and one of the related words was Bad Accents

    i have to agree that Kendras was the worst accent and outfit of Angel and Buffy combined

    • Susan

      *That* makes a lot more sense. I’ve been going through “OMwF” trying to figure out how/when Cordy is referenced. And failing.

      • To be honest, I have no sweet clue why I knew that Xander and Cordelia ended up together – none at all. I’ll be really curious to see at what point I’m able to put all of that together – I always assumed it was the one Buffy episode that I know I’ve seen most of, but apparently I invented that memory to support my knowledge.

        A mystery, we have!

        • I think you were confusing Cordelia with another character (who I won’t name, just in case you don’t remember her), who was Xander’s girlfriend in “OMWF.”

          • shuggie

            Tiny meta-spoiler: the character in OMWF who you may have confused with Cordelia, does in many ways fulfill a similar role in the group.

  8. Jac

    whoops i forgot Bai Lings outfit

  9. Tausif Khan

    “It works so well because, while we obviously sympathize with Angel, Drusilla is entirely justified: this is the man who murdered her entire family to drive her insane, the man who tormented her before she was turned into a demon herself.

    Drusilla tortures Angel due to her centuries-long desire for revenge.”

    This is a really interesting characterization of Drusilla because as she presented it seems that Drusilla is very wanton and doesn’t hold on to desires for very long. She gets bored so very easily. This is why Spike gets frustrated with her. I always that she just wanted to he hurt Angel because she thought it was fun.

    Also, these episodes were to be Spike’s last but people liked Marsters so…

    • Tausif Khan

      This was really garbled: “I always that she just wanted to he hurt Angel because she thought it was fun.”

      what I meant: “I always thought that she just wanted to hurt Angel just because she thought that it would be fun.”

      • Eldritch

        I thought Myles’ analysis that she was torturing Angel in revenge for killing her family and friends was a good one, based on what the series has said about vampires so far.

        At my first viewing of that episode, I believe I thought she tortured him simply because he had been their enemy, being ensouled as he was. My thought are usually shallower than Myles.

        However, based on what we learn about vampires in future episodes, I think his being an enemy is a large part of it, but she was also just having fun. Generally, she treats other vampires with a reckless disregard. Spike being a notable exception, of course.

    • I think that there’s definitely an element of “fun” to Drusilla’s torture: it is, after all, a sort of ritualistic foreplay, and she obviously revels in it. However, I thought it was interesting that she wasn’t talking about his pain so much as she was equating his pain with that of her relatives: I don’t necessarily know if she cares about those relatives, but she knows that Angel does, and that shows an understanding of the character which speaks to something larger than a simple demonic urge to injure. While she may not necessarily be acting out her emotional turmoil surrounding Angel murdering her family, she is playing into those narratives when she really doesn’t have to, which at east indicates she is acutely aware of that narrative and its role in this situation.

      Looking back, especially now that I’ve seen the revived Drusilla in action, I think that I probably read too far into the revenge narrative, but I think that her behaviour is meant to bring it to the surface in order to torture Angel further, which goes beyond the sort of disregard that otherwise defines the character.

      • I always just thought it was another sign of how truly insane Drusilla is! And it was a way of bringing Angel face to face with the consequences of Angelus’ actions…

  10. All this reviewing of old episodes is making me want to revisit season 2.

  11. Eleanor (undeadgoat)

    Wow–I’ve actually watched a lot of season 2 recently (so I could talk about Drusilla on a podcast–don’t judge), and I just want to say I really hope you haven’t been spoiled for “Suprise” and “Innocence”–the upcoming twist was described to me in detail by people trying to sell me on the show, and I usually care more about the journey than the destination, but man, that spoiler was killer.

  12. Tripleness

    According to the Wikipedia page you link to (in the ‘Production’ section), Bianca Lawson says that she was told only the night before shooting that she would need the accent and was never given time to try get it right. So that’s part of why it was so awful.

  13. Carlie

    An interesting piece of trivia for you in case you didn’t know: Spike was originally supposed to die at the end of What’s My Line pt 2, but he was such a popular character (and Joss Whedon loved working with Marsters!) they decided to keep him around. ^^

  14. Bob Kat

    Given Dru’s insanity and the often complex relationship between the vmapire and the human precursor, it’s not *im*possible that she might have been channeling the anger she had felt towards him as a human into the fun and hurting an enemy aspects of torturing Angel.

    As to Kendra, even if the accent is accurate, I think if its so obscure as to be unbeleiveable, it’s an ill-advised choice. Bianca is another case of Joss makign use of previous auditionees; she apparently was first choice to play Cordelia but a show she had a prior commitment to was picked up.

    I liked the shirt myself; hubba-hubba. But, while you’ll discover later instances of the Watchers’ Council being less than competent, I balme Kendra’s ignorance of Buffy’s still being alive to Sam Zabuto personally; the guy seems to be a bit of a nutter.

    I mean, she’s his ward and only owns one shirt? (Maybe she meant only 1 shirt suitable for anyplace otuside the jungle or a small vilalge.) He sends her on a mission with no transportation, just expects her to stow ehrself away as a elsson in infiltration? When he reported to the COuncil to tell him Kendra had activated, they probably told him Buffy was still alive; he just didn’t tell Kendra because he thought she ought to figure it out.

    Harmony is played by Mercedes McNab (addams Family/Values, Escape from Atlantis,Hatchet); she was in the computer lab scene in the opening two-parter and was a victim of Marcie in “Out of Mind, Out of Sight.” She’ll soon take on her first active role in the series, trnasitioning later to a different one which made her my second-favorite ‘verse character.

  15. Bluedove

    I believe that the lack of communication was simply out of mistaken assumptions. If Slayers don’t typically get resurrected, then another Slayer being called would lead to people assuming that Buffy was dead. Giles maybe didn’t bother to tell anybody beyond writing in his diary, because she died for such a short time it didn’t occur to him that another Slayer would be called.

    Also I never really minded Kendra’s accent, and I learned recently on the threads of an LJ poll that it was simply from a very specific place in Jamaica, and other people had indeed heard accents like hers in real life before.

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