Meet Mr. Mayor
May 15th, 2010
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It’s somewhat strange that I would be spoiled about Buffy while watching How I Met Your Mother, but when Harry Groener recently appeared in an episode of the series my Twitter feed lit up about the reunion of sorts between he and Alyson Hannigan, for he played Sunnydale’s mayor. At that point in my run through the series, I had heard Principal Snyder raise the Mayor’s name in a somewhat ominous fashion, so it meant that I started to read into those type of comments a bit more carefully. I still didn’t know any details about who the Mayor was, but I did know that he was going to play somewhat of an important role.
I ended up speculating a lot in my head about who the Mayor was, and whether his introduction would successfully solve how it is that the citizens of Sunnydale seem perfectly content to be living on a Hellmouth. One of the benefits of this project is that the commenters have been telling me this for a while, suggesting (without spoiling, which I am grateful for) that they may be more aware than I had imagined, so I’ve had a lot of fun discovering that they were quite right.
The Mayor of Sunnydale is the absolutely perfect antagonist for the series, a wonderful mashup of the show’s supernatural forces and corrupt politicians which simultaneously humanizes monsters of the week while demonizing humanity. I’ve yet to scratch the surface of the Mayoral influence, but I’m certainly already appreciating the new face of “evil.”
Mr. Trick, on his own, is a compelling villain who I find interesting in terms of his business corporate approach to being a vampire, but when paired with the Mayor there’s a wonderful dynamic there. The idea of taking business and political structures and playing them out within the realm of the supernatural is just a really inspired shift in the show’s trajectory, as it’s something that in some ways Buffy doesn’t know how to fight. Buffy’s mother makes the point in “Gingerbread” (while under the influence of a demon’s spell, of course) that all Buffy does is react as opposed to trying to enact real change, and that’s the marvelous thing about bringing in something so structured. Buffy knows how to defeat demons, but does she know how to tear down a corrupt system of government?
It’s a dynamic which plays out nicely in “Band Candy,” as the question of why the candy is being distributed becomes the focus more than the threat it creates. The idea of multi-layered reasoning is something we haven’t quite seen before, as the show’s villains have had aairly clear goals ranging from sheer chaos to Angelus’ targeted attacks on Buffy. “Band Candy” has the fun of Giles, Joyce and Snyder losing their minds, but it also has the sense that the plot at hand is more conspiracy than prophecy. Ethan Rayne is a subcontractor who has been hired by Mr. Trick who was in turn hired by the Mayor to create the chaos which would allow for the sacrifice to be offered to the snake demon living in Sunnydale’s sewer system. That’s a lot for the Scoobies to deal with even if Giles hadn’t been out of commission, as there’s no clear way to stop it from happening again: they can try to contain Ethan, but they can’t stop Mr. Trick from escaping, or the Mayor from running as soon as things get messy. Instead, they can simply save the babies and kill the demon with fire, solving the surface crisis without getting to the root cause of the problem.
I really like Groener in the role, and the Mayor’s position in general: the show gets a lot of mileage out of the Mayor having perfectly normal discussions within the context of demonic events, and I think it will probably get quite a bit more. For a while, I was confused why the Mayor and Snyder weren’t more pleased to know that there was a Slayer in Sunnydale, but it becomes clear that the city has a policy of appeasement with the demonic forces Buffy tries to destroy. There are some demons that he can’t control (like Spike, who gets a “committee” sent after him in “Lovers Walk” due to his unruly nature), but for the most part he’s got his own ways of holding evil at bay. We, of course, know that he won’t be successful forever (especially considering how much we’ve seen Buffy do), but he believes in a pragmatic approach: he can’t fight them like Buffy can, and since he’s unwilling to team up with someone else (out of fear of losing control over his own political fate, we presume) he has his own ways of dealing with them that we find strange but which are probably the best a politician in his position could do.
The other thing that I enjoy about the Mayor is that he doesn’t need to be at the centre of every story. He can pop in during “Gingerbread” and simply add an element of the uncanny to the MOO campaign, a contributor rather than a source of chaos within Buffy’s world. On a show like Buffy, the best thing you can say about a villain is that you want them to stick around, as so long as they are keeping things interesting there is a clear value to them. The Mayor is despicable, certainly, but he is despicable in such an interesting and unique fashion that the potential seems endless, and his appearance in stories makes them feel more than just a temporary conflict without necessarily making them part of a distinct ongoing story arc.
Mr. Trick is obviously the more dynamic villain in the traditional sense, and his personality is something I want to see more of in the future, but the Mayor manages to be both an enjoyable character and a highly functional one, something which has helped the season feel both cohesive and distinct from previous stories.
- I’m not quite sure it was so smart to do two “Bizarro World” episodes in quick succession with both “Band Candy” and “The Wish,” but I quite enjoyed the former in terms of the fun that the older cast members had with it, and I’m always a fan of standalone episode with consequences that aren’t forgotten. Joyce and Giles’ time spent together doesn’t become a clear ongoing storyline, but there are some nice subtle hints here and there, and such bits of recurring story are some of my favourite elements of the series.
- I am still not quite sure whether the Mayor was acting under the influence of the Demon in “Gingerbread” (like everyone else) or whether he was just taking advantage of the situation for political gain. In fact, I still don’t entirely know how precisely that demon worked, which makes the episode a bit messy.