June 30th, 2010
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“Something Blue” is one of those episodes of Buffy that is inherently playful, a quality that I think defines many of television’s finest series. While some shows grow content and refuse to “mess with a good thing,” other shows go out of their way to play with expectations to see how things might be different. When a show like How I Met Your Mother tries out a new narrative device, or when Glee gives “Bohemian Rhapsody” an entire act, the shows aren’t clinically experimenting with different structures: rather, they’re playing with their respective narratives, netting results which help define each series as unique within the television landscape (even if the results are at times divisive).
And play is not necessarily a strictly comic notion, either: shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men do not spring to mind when I use the word “playful,” and yet what is “Fly” if not a playful depiction of Walt’s growing psychological struggle, and isn’t “Shut the Door. Have a Seat” a merging of heist film structures with Mad Men’s historical fiction? Sometimes I think people presume that you can’t spell serialized without serious, but these sorts of dramas rely on characters like Saul Goodman or Roger Sterling who make the light observations without damaging the tension within their respective series. – they’re serious dramas, but that doesn’t mean they’re serious all the time, willing to play with our expectations for the sake of dramatic or comic effect.
“Something Blue” is an episode about Willow’s struggle to overcome tremendous grief, and while the episode is inherently comical and wistfully playful at times, there is no point at which Willow’s emotional pain feels as if it is being mocked or disrespected. While Willow’s attempts to overcome her own pain result in a series of humorous events, the playfulness of the consequences always remains connected to Willow’s feelings, allowing for the episode to capture a character’s fragile state of mind and have some fun at the same time, a feat worthy of some discussion.
In terms of the episode’s playfulness, there’s a lot to discuss here. First off, the show continues to play around with its own continuities: for example, how great is the return of Amy and her sudden reappearance and then disappearance as Willow and Buffy fail to notice how the “Will” spell is working out? There’s even something playful about Buffy bringing up the events of “Beer Bad,” like the series digging through the sandbox and finding a toy that had been buried beneath the surface. Sure, I know that many didn’t particularly like “Beer Bad,” but those playful moments of memory help to build a greater sense of continuity. It isn’t just the highly emotional or depressing elements of the series which linger on, but those which can work their way into witty banter or the like, something that I’ve always appreciated (and which the brief Amy cameo captured very nicely).
This is also a show which a highly active fan community, so I have to presume that there was a whole lot of response to Buffy’s betrothal to Spike. It’s the sort of storyline that’s purposefully cheeky, but it’s rare to see a show this willing (or able) to play around with a pairing of this nature. It’s a rich world, one which I’m fairly certain had a healthy fan fiction community, but there’s sometimes a sense that any real play within that world has to be done by viewers. Here, Spike and Buffy’s nearly-wedded bliss is meant largely as humour, but yet it also quickens Spike’s de-fanging as he becomes more a part of the group. If the show is heading in a particular direction, with Spike being able to walk amongst the group without being tied to a chair at all times, then what better way to move in that direction than to play around with the universe so that you can test it out? This isn’t just a bit of fan fiction come to life, but rather a narrative use of the primary element of fan fiction in order to move closer to Spike as something more than an antagonist. Both Gellar and Marsters had an enormous amount of fun with it as well, which is a requirement to really sell its effect on the other characters (see: Giles’ disgust at the “smacking”).
And while there was fun in a blind Giles or a Demon Magnet Xander, the episode really comes down to Willow, oblivious to it all. It’s important that she make the decision to walk away from D’Hoffryn, Anya’s demon sire of sorts, at the conclusion of the episode as opposed to being saved by the others. Willow is clearly damaged by Oz’s departure, made all the more real by his things disappearing from his apartment, and it makes her selfish: her spell is that everything she wants will come true, a wish which primarily includes unbreaking her heart but sort of reflects her general response to things. She wants Buffy to be there for her instead of for Spike, and she wants Giles to stop worrying about her, concerns which have been heightened in the wake of Oz’s exit (and were especially highlighted in “Fear Itself,” one of the many ways in which that episode foreshadowed future developments). In those moments when she curses people without realizing it, she also thinks that her curse didn’t work, one more bit of anxiety we’ve seen in the past. And so when she realizes what’s happened, and learns that it was all vengeance unleashed by her pain, she doesn’t so much fix her inner pain as she understands its impact on others. And while it may have resulted in Buffy and Spike making out, Giles hilarious tripping over things and Xander nearly being killed, at the very least everyone – the characters and the audience – better understands Willow’s pain.
You could have probably established this in a single tearful moment, as Hannigan is a great crier and if everyone had witnessed her immediate response to Oz’s stuff being shipped away to some other location you could say that they understood her pain. But seeing it brought to life in such a playful fashion makes it that much more memorable, becoming about more than what happens or what’s said and more about how that differed from what we would normally expect to see. “Something Blue” isn’t the first time this has specifically revolved around Willow (“Doppelgangland,” after all, used Vampire Willow to show us some things about how Willow has evolved as a character), and I’ve got a suspicion that it won’t be the last.
- I got a pretty huge kick out of Spike’s desire to watch Passions while locked in the bathtub: I saw bits and pieces of the soap when it began, and it’s a fitting point of reference considering its hokey presentation of magic (including Timmy, the living puppet who Spike mentions specifically).
- Speaking of Spike, interesting that he is the only one who can really see through Willow’s false presentation of happiness to see her hanging by a thread – while we would normally presume that Spike isn’t particularly attune to human emotions, he has a lot of experience with witnessing people in a state of disrepair, so he’d be an interesting window into the human condition.
- I don’t have any specific spoilers, but I do have a sneaking suspicion that the talisman Willow receives from D’Hoffryn may come into play in the future. I could be very wrong, but it would connect some dots for me.
- There was more Buffy and Riley flirtation business going on here (their picnic, for example), but there’s no real surprises there, and I’ll have more to say on that subject tomorrow when I look at “Hush.”