“Faith, Hope & Trick”
May 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.
As this project indicates, I didn’t exactly get introduced to the work of Joss Whedon in the traditional order: going from Firefly to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and then to Dollhouse is probably a little bit bizarre, but for the most part I was able to enjoy those series on their own merits without too much concern that a lack of previous experience was detrimental.
However, when I was watching Dollhouse, I didn’t really have any context for Eliza Dushku’s rather horridly weak central performance. To her credit, she improved as the show moved on (and Whedon moved Echo into a supporting role), but early on I was fascinated that anyone would ever think she was capable of carrying a television series. I was perplexed as to why Whedon had not cast Amy Acker instead, and frustrated that this project having been conceived “for” Eliza had become the deciding factor in casting. I had never seen Tru Calling, so I was just struggling to understand what anyone would see in Dushku that would recommend her for that role.
Whenever I would make these complaints, or read similar concerns, people would always say that she was “only good at playing Faith,” a comment which had very little meaning to me: I knew that Faith was a character on Buffy, and I knew that Dushku played her, but I had no other information. So as people kept returning to Faith as proof that Dushku is capable of being an action star, especially in episodes where Dollhouse allowed Echo to enter into that mode and the show was a whole lot better for it, I started to create this image of Faith in my head based purely on these stray observations.
I don’t think I ever really compiled these observations into a definitive image, but I’d like to believe that it would have emerged looking awfully similar to Faith’s introduction in “Faith, Hope and Trick,” the third episode of Buffy’s third season. Looking past the latest in a long line of inconsistent accents for the series, Faith is cocky without being immature, vulnerable without being weak, and strong without seeming indestructible; in this episode, Dushku shows confidence and range that was either buried in Dollhouse’s premise or has simply been lost with age.
However, what was lost has – through my rather odd way of making my way through the Whedonverse – been found, as Faith’s introduction is a breath of fresh air in an episode which manages to balance three different purposes and deliver on each of them in order to set up a foundation for the remainder of the season.
For the second time, the arrival of a new Slayer is cloaked in mystery and the show utilizes a bait and switch in order to heighten the impact of their arrival. However, while Kendra’s case of mistaken identity – assassin, rather than slayer – was necessary to keep the bland (if, as a subtle comparative, functional) character interesting, Faith is pretty fantastic as soon as she arrives. Her cavalier attitude makes Buffy look like Kendra, and the idea of a slayer jumping on the open road and heading to the Hellmouth to have some fun while her Watcher is out of town gives us a glimpse at another personality-type who has been chosen for this task. Xander is smitten (he clearly has a thing for slayers), and everyone is fascinated to hear her stories of dangerous and exotic encounters which are better suited to social situations compared than Buffy’s tales of personal struggle and emotional woe. The character is just a whole lot of fun, and before things start to seem a bit fishy it’s fun to watch someone who shares Buffy’s affinity for slaying vampires and is just as capable of being quippy (which, as the Scoobies pointed out while taking over her slaying duties, is part of Buffy’s repertoire which doesn’t get the respect it deserves).
What sets Faith apart from Kendra is not just that she’s a heck of a lot more interesting in general, but also that the subterfuge surrounding her introduction isn’t so much a plot contrivance as it is actual character development. This time around, the shift in character is not a simple bait-and-switch designed to make the slayer’s arrival less predictable, and Faith’s actions and confidence are placed in an entirely new light when we learn that she witnessed her Watcher die in front of her. Dushku nicely captures the subtleties of this change: I’ve seen the following episode, and Faith’s early behaviour here is not so much out of character as it is amped up to 11. She’s throwing herself out there because she doesn’t know what else to do, and Dushku is impressive at both the simple pleasures and the deeper emotions of the character.
However, perhaps the real star here is David Greenwalt, who puts together a really great script. He is juggling three balls in the air with this episode, and his most intelligent move is playing them off of one another before we entirely understand the connections. The episode needs to get to the point where Mr. Trick is established as an ongoing villain, Faith’s true reasons for running are revealed/resolved, and Buffy comes to terms with her experience with Angel so that she can true to search for closure. However, while ideally you would want these stories to be connected to one another for the sake of dramatic impact, they start out as independent tales: Kakistos and Mr. Trick get their memorable drive-thru sequence which identifies them as antagonists, Buffy encounters Faith at the Bronze, and Giles drops a small mention to Buffy about needing more information about Angel’s death in order to create a binding spell.
We eventually learn that all three stories are not what they appear, but the episode accomplishes this through reveals and shifts in one storyline migrating into another. Our time with Kakistos reveals that Faith is actually running away from him rather than just road tripping, allowing Greenwalt to connect the two stories and raise suspicions about Faith’s story. At that point, Buffy shifts into a mode where she tries to get Faith to tell her the truth about what happened with her Watcher, which leads to Faith getting her closure while Buffy feels inspired to come clean with Giles about Angel’s soul returning right before she murdered him. Throw in Mr. Trick abandoning Kakistos in the midst of his battle with Buffy and Faith in a memorable fashion, and you’ve managed to introduce two new characters, kill an ancient vampire, resolve your protagonist’s inner turmoil and even (just for fun) introduced a potential love interest in Scott Hope.
That’s a lot for a single episode to handle, but everything feels cohesive and the emotional elements in the episode don’t feel like they’re rushed in any capacity. Yes, Dushku starts out as the cocky slayer and within an hour transforms into a damaged teenager running away from a traumatic experience, but it is both (as discussed) well-played by Dushku and well-placed by the show. It raises the question of what would happen to Buffy if Giles were murdered, and it offers a parallel with Buffy’s situation which feels “real” in a way which the anvil-like demons in the first two episodes failed to achieve. Faith is a real character suffering a real tragedy, and while her closure inspires Buffy to take her ring to the mansion and place the past behind her it doesn’t only feel like a launching pad for that story. This is a pretty substantial setup episode, but it never feels laboured in the same way that the first two episodes of the season felt as they suffered (if logically) under the weight of the end of last season.
I do think that the episode leans a bit too heavily on the bait and switch: between the truth behind Faith’s visit to Sunnydale, Mr. Trick proving to be the real “villain” being introduced, and Buffy’s attempt to get closure actually bringing Angel back from the depths of hell, there might be one twist too many in there if we think of them out of context. However, the first ends up being far more emotional than you’d expect from a character we just met earlier in the episode, and the second is done in a matter of fact way which says a lot about the character; only Angel’s sudden arrival, intended as a cliffhanger, is meant to remain a “twist,” and serve as a direct source of pure momentum rather than a foundation on which future stories can be built. It’s a really well-struck balance which managed to live up to my conceptions of Faith as a character while restoring my faith (see what I did there?) in the series’ ability to be a bit more subtle at this early stage of the season.
- The one problem the episode has is how it cuts Scott Hope off at the knees: the fact that we knew nothing about the character and that he’s so gosh darn generic isn’t helpful, but for Angel to return (in any form) at episode’s end makes the character doomed to failure. I think there could have been more done with the character to make him somewhat more endearing, but considering the conclusion it is obviously a lower priority.
- It also doesn’t help that giving Buffy the same ring that Angel gave her was the one beat in the episode which felt too anvil-like – I would have preferred if the speech had sounded similar enough that Buffy would flash back, only for the box to hold some sort of chintzy bracelet instead. It could still freak Buffy out without being quite so on the nose.
- I didn’t talk a whole lot about Angel’s return above for the rather logical reason that I’ll be talking more about it tomorrow – we don’t know the details within this episode, so why speculate when we can actually discuss in my post on the episodes which follow?
- Another credits annoyance: Mr. Trick appearing in the opening credits (in a brief image, not as an actor) immediately led me to presume he was actually more important than Kakistos, although the episode doesn’t entirely try to hide that fact either. The second season showed that it tends to favour the talkative over the brutish (see Spike/Drusilla/Angel controlling, rather than taking orders from, the Judge), so it’s no shock it would go in this direction.
42 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: “Faith, Hope & Trick” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)”
It’s worth noting that an episode like this existed in 1998. It’s pretty incredible when you consider television that came before this and what came after. The general improvement in the quality of television (be it on cable or otherwise) is kind of remarkable. Does Buffy deserve some credit? What do you think Myles? I know Freaks and Geeks, West Wing, and Sopranos all aired a year later–are they responsible or was it just a change that occurred because of the internet. I know Twin Peaks and My So Called Life were pretty seminal too, but I’m curious to see what you and your readers think.
Since you asked, my thinking is that you haven’t seen Babylon 5.
While Buffy certainly helped to raise the bar in terms of quality television and absolutely deserves some real credit for doing so, Babylon 5 (1994-1998) did more than any other show that I’m aware of.
It was conceived as one story, in three acts, meant to last for 5 Seasons. Due in no small part to the fact that series creator J. Michael Straczynski wrote more than 90 of the show’s 110 Episodes, it revolutionized serialized storytelling and had transitioned to become completely serialized by the time that Buffy was first starting out. It has some tremendous characterization and acting that stands among the best from any show. And the degree to which several of the main characters evolve, change and progress over the Seasons is staggering.
While it had some very tough challenges with miscasting, cast changes, threats of cancelation and a very rough first Season, there is no question to me that B5 deserves a great deal of credit for elevating the medium and serving as a shining example to all of the shows that followed.
B5 is an incredible achievement, and a terrific show.
But… how much impact do you think it had? I don’t know, but I suspect that Buffy’s influence is stronger than Babylon 5’s and for a few reasons. One of the big reasons being the very thing you mention as one of B5’s strengths–that it was almost singlehandedly written by Straczynski. Contrarily, many writers passed through Buffy, and several of them moved to other shows, some of which are still on and doing well.
Also, I consider B5’s brand of serialization to be slightly different than Buffy’s. Buffy has the striking format of regular resolution at three different levels–episode, season, and series–which seemed pretty unusual to me when I first saw it. Now it’s fairly typical; it’s been used, for instance, in Smallville, The Shield and Dexter. I think that specific brand of serial design is really mostly accountable to Buffy.
You’re right. I don’t think any series before Buffy managed such complex narrative structure, though most of the shows I enjoy now do something along these lines–Friday Night Lights (not a football fan, btw, but it’s so not the point) for instance. Even Lost works a season arc with the series arc (though I doubt you could come in mid-story and have any freakin’ clue what was gong on).
What I remember pre-Buffy was definitely an anthology model–a series of one-off eps. Some minor backstory and relationship arcs that developed, but nothing that would complicate a chance watching in syndication, nothing that would change one’s experience no matter what order in which one watched the eps.
Okay–Twin Peaks was outside that formula. But it was HIGHLY experimental, and it’s difficult to talk about any kind of arc at all with that show–even with the “Who Killed Laura Palmer” hook. It was ultimately a failed experiment, btw, because it didn’t achieve the balance Buffy did. Even those of us who watched every ep in sequence (much more difficult to do in those days, btw) had little sense of continuity. The lack of any structure finally collapsed on itself.
I know a lot of people who came to Buffy by catching an ep or two in syndication, completely out of context, picking up the story from there and going back later to fill in what they’d missed–friends of my kids, for instance, who were too young for the Buffy audience when it aired.
While those people tend to report that they thought the show was “cute” and “funny” but not a big deal when they first started watching, they didn’t feel so out of the loop that they couldn’t enjoy the show.
Of course, once they started watching serially and caught up on back eps, they realized that Buffy is so much more than cute and funny.
I have a friend who’s first ep, in syndication, was “Becoming, Part II.” She was so captivated by that one ep–having no context except what was provided therein–that she bought the DVDs that weekend.
Whedon and his writers did manage to create what they wanted AND what the studio wanted–a rich metanarrative that welcomed new viewers in at almost any point. He set a standard.
“It raises the question of what would happen to Buffy if Giles were murdered”
Well, Buffy did lose her first watcher – Merrick (seen in flashbacks in ‘Becoming’)
Nit stricctly canon, of course, but, in case you ever find yourself in the midst of a Buffy trivia contest, he shoots himself in front of her in Joss’s original script (to stop Lothos from turning him) and is killed by Lothos with his own stake in Kuzui’s film.
But comparing Buffy and Faith’s experiences and how they react to them is gonna be a continuing source of fun for awhile to come.
True, she did lose Merrick, but she was never emotionally attached to him the way she is to Giles. (I mean, she knew him, for what, like 3 days?) I think losing Giles would really destroy her, to the point that she would become something unrecognizable. She would push her other friends away and, as has already been pointed out multiple times, her friends and family are what make her different from other slayers.
And, yes, comparing Buffy and Faith is always good times. They are very much yin and yang.
I struggled mightily with Dollhouse mainly because Dushku was so dreadful. It’s pretty clear, IMO, after DH, that she’s a one-dimensional actor (making DH the worst possible vehicle for her). But Faith is her dimension–she is consistently great, and within that character shows impressive range and subtlety. So I understand Whedon’s confidence in her.
I never saw Tru Calling, btw.
Tru Calling was very uneven, and Dushku’s character was emptier than Echo. That was mostly bad concept and bad writing, though.
I still can’t make up my mind whether Dushku was great or terrible in Dollhouse. She tended both ways. I do think that in retrospect, her character was intended to be more subdued than Faith (it would be hard to out-Faith Faith), and I think that as Echo evolved, the role evolved more to let Dushku show off her skills. Through season 2, she certainly had moments of brilliance.
Eliza Dushku will ever be able to simply fade into a role, the way that great character actors can (including Enver Gjokaj in Dollhouse). But the same has been true for some of the very best actors, such as Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn; you never forgot who they were when they were on-screen. It will be interesting to see how much Eliza Dushku can evolve over her career. In the mean time, Faith’s fireworks are just beginning.
My main disappointment in Dollhouse basically stemmed from Dushku’s portrayal of Echo. I had really admired her as Faith, but Echo? She showed herself to be rather 1-note. True, she can play that 1 note beautifully, but sadly she doesn’t seem to have much more range than the action heroine (or perhaps as villain, a kick-ass role in any case). She was better in season 2, but like you said, was more in the background. I think she plays off other people better than having the weight of the show on her shoulders.
One can’t help but liking Faith, just like the Scoobies we’re mesmerized by her!
There is an episode later in the series called I believe “Who Are You?” which made me think that this singular episode was what made Whedon think that Eliza Dushku could do Dollhouse. He references this episode in his commentary for Objects in Space. So watch out for it.
Also when did the gang become “The Scoobies”? I don’t think I heard anyone refer to them as the Scoobies in the TV show until the later seasons.
Also I think at that point I think she was the Summer Glau of the Whedonverse. Until Whedon met Summer. Of Course.
I think the first use of “Scoobies” was in What’s My Line, part 2, when Xander and Cordelia are breaking into Buffy’s house.
The fan community began calling them the “Scoobies” online, and the show adopted it. Whedon had always thought they would be the “slayerettes,” as Willow says in one of the first episodes of the show.
S2 was better than S1 of Tru Calling, but then again, Jane Espenson was added to the writing crew along with Richard Hatem (fresh off his stint with Greenwalt in the fantastic Miracles). Very annoyed S2 was canceled before it even aired.
While I think some of the high points of Season 2 trump Season 3, from this point forward “Faith, Hope & Trick” establishes the series’ strongest season long narrative. I loathe “Dead Man’s Party” and have serious issues with “Gingerbread” but the run from at least “Bad Girls” through “Graduation Day Part 2” is pretty damn near impeccable.
Yup, seasons 3 and 5 easily have the best season-long narratives, and not coincidentally, the best season-long villains.
I’d say the best villains (season-long or single) in the whole series! 😉
Angelus in season two is pretty great, but yeah, I agree, the season five villain is clearly the best.
The villains this season are also extremely personal to Buffy as well as ambiguous in just how stridently evil they are. Even when the characters give in to their most villainous desires and ambitions there is something recognizable and frequently likable about them.
Huh. I had major issues with S5 villain. I can’t get into it without big spoilers though. I also had major issues with that whole season which is partially tied to the reasons I had issues with the villain/usage of the villain. Myles needs to watch the show faster. 😉
I couldn’t have put it better myself. Dead Man’s Party and Gingerbread aside, it’s one slam-dunk after another.
I completely and utterly concur. Although season 5 is my favorite arc and villain-wise, season 3 is definitely my #2 favorite; and Gingerbread aside, (I don’t mind Dead Man’s Party so much, but hoo wee Gingerbread was terrible) season 3 is one of the best seasons of television even today.
I have never really understood Joss’s admiration for Eliza Dushku. She does Faith very well, but one is tempted to believe that there’s a lot of Eliza in Faith. To be fair to her, though, she is the one who had the contract with Fox that made it possible for Dollhouse to be created, so it’s not surprising she’s so important in it. She wanted something which would show off her full range of an actor. Many say that, sadly, it did.
Faith is a much more interesting character than Kendra, probably inevitably, as naughty is usually more interesting then painfully obedient. And Dushku certainly brought her to life. Trick is great fun too, and will be important in introducing key aspects of this season. A real foil for Buffy means that the season is not just about Buffy/Angel angst, too.
It often seems to be the third episode in which things really start to “take off”. One wonders if there may be studio/network pressure to avoid too much of an arc in the earliest episodes in order to attract a new audience.
I realize that I’m alone in this, but I firmly believe that the problems with Echo’s character had very little to do with Dushku’s performance, and everything to do with the script. In much of the first season, the show had no idea what to do with her, and so she went from “Why, exactly, wouldn’t you hire a real hostage negotiator?” to “Why, exactly, wouldn’t you just hire a real hooker?”. When she did get a purpose, I thought she handled it pretty well, and you could really see why she was good in the role
As Faith, however, I think she is nothing short of magnificent. I really can’t imagine any other actress doing that character as well as Dushku, and that’s saying a lot. For both Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku, Buffy was a once in a lifetime lightning-bolt, pairing characters with actresses in just a perfect way. Especially in later episodes, Faith just steals every scene she’s in. And to counter Myles point that Amy Acker should have been given the main role in Dollhouse, I personally think that Dushku in Buffy is far better than Amy Acker ever was in Angel.
Agreed. For a lot of reasons, it is painfully difficult to give a damn about Echo’s character in season one. The five stand-alone episodes — the fact that our emotional connection, such as it was, was with “Caroline,” who turned out to be unbelievably annoying — the show itself stumbling to get a handle on what it was trying to do. Eliza Dushku is no Enver Gjokaj, but I do think she’s a better actress than she was able to show in Dollhouse.
Re: Amy Acker — her character on Angel didn’t have a lot of range, but I thought Amy did a great job playing her. And Angel Season Five proved conclusively, IMO, that she wasn’t just playing herself.
I love Amy Acker’s character in Angel (is it spoilery to say who that would be?–maybe so), and I think “A Hole in the World” and what comes after, speaks volumes about her as an actor.
As far as the Fox deal goes, it was WITH Eliza Dushku. So to get Dollhouse on the air, Dushku pretty much had to be the lead of the show or the most compelling supporting character. There’s not really another natural part for Dushku to play within the Dollhouse cast list.
I’m so glad we’ve finally gotten to Faith! She’s one of my favorites (along with Spike, Willow, and Wes), and I love the hoops she has to jump through just to be accepted as an equal. I think her MASSIVE complex when it comes to Buffy is apparent even in her first episode. Every time the conversation starts to drift away from her she has to pull out something really ridiculous (like naked alligator wrestling) to get the attention back.
And I thought Dushku was alright in DH. I mean, she wasn’t the strongest (Paul and November, anyone?) but I don’t get everyone’s severe hatred of her. I think Oskar’s right: the problems with Echo came more from the writers than from Dushku. Tho, to be fair, the writers aren’t even the most guilty party here; they got a lot of pressure from Fox to write the first half of the first season a very specific way, to the point that you can name the episode (“Man on the Street”) when Fox finally backed off and let Whedon do his thing.
I think Eliza improved considerably over dollhouse’s run but what struck me the most was how much better she was in the original pilot. (along with pretty much everything else)
Anyways, love this episode. Kicks the season into gear and introduces two of the most memorable characters in the series.
It’s also the first episode with the slightly
remixed intro song. 😛
It’s important to remember that Echo’s character in season 1 was intended to be a blank slate. (“Ever try to clean a blank slate?”) Slamming her for not bringing a lot of character to a blank slate is unfair. And for an actor with such strong natural charisma, “blank slate” is pretty hard to do.
When Echo got a role with real meat, Dushku did pretty well. I think her performance as the blind cult member was very good, and definitely not in her Faithy kick-ass character mode.
I don’t think anyone is slamming Dushku for not playing a good blank slate–certainly I’m not. But she didn’t do well at all playing most of the engagement characters she was required to play–and the whole point of the engagements was that she *became* those people. On that score, IMO, she failed consistently.
When Echo became a character, not a blank slate, Dushku began to settle into that character–and the narrative began to develop the idea that Echo as a personality was never fully erased. Thus, Echo’s engagement personalities were *meant,* in the show’s narrative, to be imbricated with her own, and she was playing a much more consistent character from that point forward.
Dushku was not dreadful in Dollhouse. There were flashes of wonderful acting . But she had a much tougher task than say, Enver Gjokaj, with his five or ten minutes of screen time he could polish to a shine. She was the focus of every episode, so far more dialog to memorize, along with her producer’s role. She had a week or so to prepare a new character, plus add shades to Echo. Not easy even for the most versatile actor. Take Toni Collette in United States of Tara, who’s mentioned sometimes to show up Dushku. Collette played the same four characters over and over. Dushku did over twenty characters in less than a year. So, some slack, ‘kay?
Faith being a catalyst for Buffy to open up to Giles at the end is obvious in retrospect, but somehow after multiple viewings I’d mostly attributed it to Giles’ prodding. There’re always multiple layers in these episodes, which is why there are always new connections to make on re-watch.
I’d definitely recommend watching Season Four of Buffy and Season One of Angel concurrently, one Buffy ep, then one Angel, if for no other reason than because Faith’s emotional journey climaxes on Angel, and is incredible.
I agree that Buffy S4 and Angel S1 should be watched concurrently–the only really key crossovers, in which character and plot continuity between the shows is important, happen during that time frame.
I’m willing to give Dushku the credit to say that she might have done any one of DH engagement characters better if that had been her only role. Dushku improved dramatically when Echo became a real role. I do think, though, that there are actors who could’ve handled the task actually at hand much better.
I think Gjokaj proved repeatedly that his talent is truly impressive–in a class way above Dushku.
But she shines as Faith. And kicks all kinds of ass. Definitely.
If you want to, you CAN watch s4 Buffy and S1 Angel with alternating episodes. And the next season. But things get quite complicated with Buffy season 6/Angel season 3 and Buffy season 7/Angel season 4 – the shows didn’t air back-to-back and one WILL skip ahead much faster than the other; you’re gonna need a guide as to which episodes to watch in which order when you get to that point. Lucky for you, Buffy/Angel fans are famous for how helpful they can be.
But there’s no REAL problem with finishing up all of Buffy before starting Angel. There are a two things that might make you go “huh?” but it’s not much worse than any writer’s trick of showing something happening and waiting until later to explain why it happened.
Longtime lurker here… Just wanted to say that Eliza Dushku is actually from Boston, so her accent is the real deal.
No one’s said it yet, so lets hear it for Mr. Trick? Buffy has quite a few vampires with distinct and entertaining personalities.
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re: dushku’s accent, she’s really from Boston, so I think they had her tone it back at times for audio clarity, much like Glenn Quinn’s (real) Irish accent in Angel
I agree, her accent is a toned down version; the problem is that the real Boston accent sounds exafgerated and fake to those who aren’t familiar with it.
I was going to mention the reality of the accent. Maybe tuning it *down* made it less beleiveable for you, Myles?
Not to take sides on Elaiza’s abilties in _DH_, but the “hostage negotiator” character showed she can, at need, play what I call “Miss Fiske types.”
Now I want to re-watch this tonight. Grr.
Good forum posts, Thanks a lot.