Cultural Catchup Project: Meet Mr. Mayor (Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Meet Mr. Mayor

May 15th, 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.

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.

Cultural Observations

  • 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.
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39 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

39 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: Meet Mr. Mayor (Buffy the Vampire Slayer

  1. Spot-on analysis of the Mayor, my favorite of the Big Bads on Buffy, and for all the reasons you enumerated.

    Superheroes are reactionary figures by nature (and I would consider Buffy a superhero). Very few of them actually do any pre-emptive action. The show attempts to follow through this idea of Buffy as a reactionary next season a bit more, but it gets a bit muddled, I feel.

    And you haven’t seen Bizarro World episodes. Yet. Wait a bit longer. 😉

  2. Again, it’s interesting to read your reaction as a Buffy novice to things….

    One thing that is interesting to watch in season three is how Whedon and company shift the big bad emphasis from Trick to the Mayor and his cronies as the season goes along. There’s a two parter coming up that clearly signals the transition and it’s fascinating to see and recall how Whedon and the writers realized that there was only so much you could do with Trick without it being a Spike rehash.

  3. diane

    Ah yes, the Mayor. The only thing I can say without spoilage is, “Tee hee!” It gets better.

    • ditto!
      It’s amazing to see how things gradually gravitate from Trick to the Mayor and he becomes a bit more involved in things and a bit less on the sidelines… he’s definitely one snakey character you don’t want to turn your back on! 😉

  4. Aeryl

    Band Candy is just fun to watch.

    “[The coat] is so Juice Newton”: Joyce

    “Hit him again!”: Gleeful Giles

    “Summers, you drive like a spazz”: Fun Snyder

    One of my all time faves.

    • And Buffy’s look at her mom: “Mom?!?!” when she catches her with Giles…

      I liked the fact that we get another glimpse at Ripper, a good reminder that Giles has a dark layer under all that tweed… 😉

  5. Eldritch

    “Gingerbread” was the episode that told me how Sunnydale citizens remained so unaware of vampires and demons in their community. They were just the best in the nation at rationalization. When Joyce described the frequent vampire attacks as “spontaneous neck ruptures” and no one in the crowd objected, I realized these people could deny anything.

    When I lived in Oklahoma, people there couldn’t understand how Californians could live with the constant danger of earthquakes. Now that I live in California, my neighbors can’t understand how Oklahomans tolerate the constant danger of random tornadoes.

    Somehow people learn to live with the dangers in their own backyard. Even vampires and demons.

  6. diane

    it’s something that in some ways Buffy doesn’t know how to fight

    consequences that aren’t forgotten

    These are really the two key elements of storytelling that keep Buffy fresh and engaging over seven seasons. Each season, the “big bad” is bigger, badder, more complex, and more overwhelming. Each season, Buffy faces things she doesn’t know how to fight.

    And each season, the consequences pile up. One of Joss Whedon’s great talents as a serial storyteller is that he knows how to let consequences lie dormant for months or years, until they mature and can rise up with maximum impact.

    These are the things that make Buffy more than a “good TV series with engaging characters and witty dialog.” The series as a whole is a bildungsroman, not just for Buffy, but for Willow, Xander, and several other characters as well. “Growing up” is not something that happens once, and it’s over. It happens to all of us, over and over throughout life, and Buffy captures that as well as any series I know.

    • Eldritch

      “The series as a whole is a bildungsroman, not just for Buffy, but for Willow, Xander..”

      Right. That’s one of the things I enjoy about the series: continued growth of the characters over the years of the series. Not unlike Harry Potter’ series.

      • Susan

        I agree. Characters are what Whedon, et al. do best–the stories are great, too, but the characters are the reason I can watch the series over and over and over again.

        Especially as each series reaches its conclusion, it’s astonishing to look back at the development of the main characters. The changes are generally subtle and always organic, but when tracked from series premiere (or character introduction) to series finale (or character exit) the growth is dramatic. The word “consequences” has been raised several times in these posts, and I couldn’t agree more: these characters contend with the consequences of their experiences. They are changed by the things they live with and through. That’s rare in TV.

        Already at this point in S3, Buffy is not the often-bubbly, sometimes superficial girl we met in “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” and really bears little emotional resemblance to her. And we know exactly why.

  7. Gill

    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.

    Wonderful reaction for this stage in the season. There will be Developments.

    Band Candy gives us wonderful insights into the background of the adult characters, reminding us that inside every middle-aged person there’s a teenager wondering what the hell happened. The dynamic between Giles and Joyce is wonderful in this episode – Joyce playing girlfriend to the know-it-all rock fan is hilarious, and Giles saying “She’s my Slayer” is just priceless. Snyder is magnificent in that episode too – we almost, but not quite, begin to warm to him. Note the name of the writer, too – Jane Espenson becomes one of the most inspired and reliable of the team.

  8. Eric

    In some ways “The Wish” has a bigger influence on the series in the long run, but there is a reference back to “Band Candy” later in the season that is just priceless! One of the wonderful things about BtVS is that while there are standalone episodes, and arc episodes, the events of the standalones still affect the characters as they progress along their arcs.

    • Susan

      There’s a reference to “Band Candy” in S5, too. I, too, love how the writers continue to weave these threads into the narrative for seasons to come.

  9. Tausif Khan

    Actually you have been spoiled more than you think. Both coffee baristas in How I Met Your Mother have been on Whedon shows. One is obviously Morena Baccarin who plays Inara on Firefly. The other you will have to wait till season 6 to find out who the other Whedonite is.

  10. I’ve been catching Buffy here and there on Logo recently and it’s always a pleasure to delve back into the Hellmouth, so to speak.

    Totally agree that The Mayor was one of the best villains in the history of the show. He brought out the best in the comedy-horror-drama mix, really. Later seasons tilted too far to one side or the other (thinking 5-7 I suppose), but 1-4 were some of the best seasons of any show, anywhere.

    • Eldritch

      I think part of that is due to Harry Goener’s a great actor. He has a long resume of TV and theater behind him. He’s quite well known and he brings a lot to his roles.

      • He absolutely has a memorable presence. Whedon and co. did a remarkable job of casting through the show’s run.

        • Susan

          Yep; the Mayor is my favorite villain, too (are we spoiling the villain thing at this point, btw?). I don’t think I can entirely go into the reasons why, but I kinda have a little crush on him. I wouldn’t mind playing a round of miniature golf with him.

  11. Susan

    Hey–did I miss Myles’ review of “Amends”??

    • No – it won’t be going up until either later today (which is looking unlikely, time-wise, as I’m graduating this afternoon) or more likely on Monday or Tuesday. It and “Revelations” in a bit more detail. Promise.

      • Eldritch

        Myles,

        Congratulations on graduating!

        Is the employment market for English majors pretty hot these days? Or has the wonderful world of blogging opened opportunities for you?

      • Tausif Khan

        Congrats on graduating!

      • Thank you, and yeah – job market not so much. Heading onto the PhD in September, so that horror is 4-5 years off in the distance.

        • Eldritch

          Dr. Myles,

          Best of luck with your studies. Five years. Wow. Long time.

          On the other hand, your reviews read a lot like you’ve already completed your doctorate!

        • Then welcome to the wonderful world of Procrastination! You’ve got your own blog which is an excellent procrastinating tool… you’ll pick up a few others on the way! All part of the hell/glory that is a PhD (I’m trying to finish mine).

          I recommend you dive into PhDComics if you haven’t… mostly techno-oriented but a lot of fun and quite often very true to the experience! 😉

          • Susan

            Gratz, Myles, on your graduation and on your continuing studies! I have a PhD in American lit, and I can vouch for the joys and horrors of never leaving academe. So far, the joys are still in the lead.

            And 4 or 5 years is enough time to reasonably expect that the era of impaction will be behind us and the job market will have loosened up.

          • Eldritch

            Wow. Look at all the Ph.D.’s.

            That’s one of the amazing things about this TV show. It’s been welcomed by a well educated crowd. I’ve been very impressed that this show has generated several books from the academic crowd. I don’t mean fanfic, but essays on the morality of Buffy, the impact of the show on society, and the meaning of it all.

            I don’t think the Twilight books are generating that kind of attention.

        • diane

          Congrats indeed on graduation! Onward to being piled higher and deeper. I never went the grad school route myself, but I did mother-hen a close friend through her dissertation (experimental psychology). That was enough.

          In addition to a number of excellent academic books on Buffy and the Whedonverse, there’s also the online Slayage journal, with their bi-annual conference coming up next month. I went to the conference four years ago and it was a blast. I also presented a paper looking at the Buffyverse through the lens of Bakhtin’s studies of carnival theory (“Rabelais and his World”) and dialogism (“Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics”). I only had time to research and write the paper because I was unemployed, but after I got a job, I never had time to prepare it to submit for publication. So it sits in a well-neglected corner of the web.

          Anyway, point being that there’s practially a whole career in Buffy studies, if you want.

          • Aeryl

            Since ya’ll brought up dissections of Whedon, I remember this funny story I read, where Joss himself went on a message board, and found a person who was talking about how there was totally a lesbian subtext to Faith and Buffy’s relationship.

            Joss(not as himself, just an anonymous poster) disagreed, and that person produced a huge response, bringing up hundreds of instances of sexual tension, and literature tropes, and finally Joss agrees that they are totally right.

      • Gill

        Congratulations on your graduation!

  12. Eldritch

    Katie,

    If you’re still with us, in a previous Buffy Project thread you said:

    “…but hoo wee Gingerbread was terrible…”

    Now that we’re up to Gingerbread, would you like to go into why you disliked the episode so much. I’m kinda interested.

  13. Aeryl

    Reading your latest Twitter update, makes me believe you are deliberately holding off posting your latest Cultural Catch Up post, just to drive up page views, Myles, lol.

  14. Bob Kat

    One thing I want to say about the Mayor, and I regard this as a very Whedonish thing; don’t think of Richard Wilkins “III” as corresponding to _Dallas_’s JR Ewing or the various generals who showed up the series _MASH_. He is much more than pure evil dressed up in a mask of repspectbaility that only a few can see through. In fact, in some ways, some ways, he isn’t that at all. I don’t think it’s spoilery to say Joss never tells how the Mayor first-first got involved with demons or what his most original motives were (that’s not really story-relevant anyway) and that there could be any number of them.

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