“What’s My Line Parts 1 & 2”
April 27th, 2010
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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.
- 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.