Tag Archives: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Series/Season Finale: Doctor Who – “The Big Bang”

“The Big Bang”

June 26th, 2010

While I never publicly agonized over it, the decision to watch Doctor Who’s fifth series (or first series of the Moffat era, if we want to get really complicated) on the British schedule was not an easy one: while a large part of my readership appear to have been watching at the same pace, making for lively conversations, I have not been making light of the ethical dilemmas therein in continuing to post in this fashion.

However, ultimately, I think Steven Moffat has created a season of television which demands to be watched as part of a collective audience, and as a newcomer to the series I feel as if I would have been lost had I been following the North American viewings. Commenters have been most kind at helping contextualize my experience with the series within the series’ larger framework, and the season has been so aggressively timey-wimey that there is a great value to be watching at the same pace as those who can help provide important context for what I’m experiencing. If I were three weeks behind, many of those fans may no longer be interested in these episodes, and I think this season would have been a much less enjoyable one as a critic.

“The Big Bang” is a story at once about the beginning and the end of the world, and yet it is a sparse story told using only a few primary characters as opposed to some sort of epic struggle. There is struggle, but it is struggle which unfolds between various different versions of the same characters over time as opposed to between a larger number of characters. And while there’s enough time travel to make your head spin, and it introduces various elements which border on dei ex machina, those elements are so intricately linked to these characters that they play out more like poetry than plot.

And through a small story with big consequences, “The Big Bang” stands as a conclusive finale which connects back which all which came before, an episode which solidifies the quality of the Eleventh Doctor, the importance of one Amy Pond, and the sheer potential which lies in the future with Moffat at the helm.

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Cultural Catchup Project: Pulling Back the Curtain (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Pulling Back the Curtain

June 23rd, 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.

I’ve talked a bit along the way about the notion of spoilers as it relates to watching these series. I know enough about Buffy as a whole that there are certain things I have unknowingly committed to memory which have effectively spoiled certain elements of the series. For example, I distinctly remember a marathon of the “Top 10” Buffy episodes that my brother taped on television at some point early in the decade, and during that time I remember seeing bits and pieces of “Hush,” and “Once More with Feeling!” As a result, there are certain images etched in my mind, in some cases mistakenly (as we learned when I thought it was Cordelia with Xander in “Once More with Feeling”) but in all cases meaningfully. For better or for worse, Buffy’s substantial cultural capital meant that there were things about the show I internalized without fully understanding the context.

In some ways, the Cultural Catchup Project is a dangerous way to watch the show if I’m concerned about further spoilers, but in reality nothing that has been “revealed” by the comments on these posts hasn’t been fairly clearly choreographed by other signifiers. While I remain wary of substantial plot spoilers which may not be so easily predicted, it is only inevitable that watching a series which aired a decade ago and doing so with an observational eye will undoubtedly reveal things that may have surprised other viewers at the time.

So long as the show around them remains entertaining, as it does when Joss Whedon and Co. finally pull back the curtain on Buffy’s fourth season in “Wild at Heart” and (particularly) “The Initiative,” all these subtle spoilers will do is alter the experience from one of shock and surprise to one of appreciation and curiosity. It may not be the same, but it is not definitively less rewarding either, indicating how no one person will view a series in an identical fashion as any other.

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Cultural Catchup Project: “The Harsh Light of Day”/”In The Dark” (Buffy and Angel)

“The Harsh Light of Day”/”In the Dark”

June 22nd, 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.

I don’t think the crossovers were really a huge part of my decision to watch Buffy and Angel simultaneously at the end of the day, but they certainly helped justify the decision. The idea of doing crossovers is logical for the two series, airing back-to-back as they were, but I’ll admit that watching “The Harsh Light of Day” and “In the Dark” makes me wonder just how crucial watching this particular crossover together really is. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it highly unnecessary, although I’ll admit that there’s some interesting storytelling within the connection.

I want to talk a bit about how the Gem of Amara serves as a crossover element, but I also want to discuss how each show’s respective seasons are shaping up a few episodes in. At this point, Whedon needs to be careful about crossovers, as Angel needs to be establishing its own identity rather than relying on its connections with Buffy. As a result, “In the Dark” is less a continuation of “The Harsh Light of Day” and more a spin-off of its central plot element in order to tell a different story with more weight for Angel and the future of his series. The result is two episodes that are connected, yes, but are primarily continuations and introductions of key themes moving forward into independent, rather than connected seasons.

This doesn’t mean that there’s no value in watching them together, but it does mean that I don’t consider it a necessity.

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Cultural Catchup Project: New Beginnings in “The Freshman” and “City Of” (Buffy and Angel)

New Beginnings in “The Freshman” and “City Of”

June 19th, 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 only fitting that, as Buffy and Angel’s paths diverge into two separate series, the Cultural Catchup Project forces them back together for the sake of analysis.

There is no plot-based connection between “The Freshman,” Buffy’s fourth season premiere, and “City Of,” Angel’s “pilot” of sorts which started off its first season: while there is a brief moment shared between the two episodes, it is an easter egg more than a substantial development. However, both episodes tell more or less the same story: our protagonist moves onto a new stage in their life in an unfamiliar location and struggles to reconcile their past life with their present situation.

In that sense, both episodes serve the function of a pilot: while “The Freshman” isn’t debuting a new series, it is ushering in a new era for Buffy, as she heads down the road to UC Sunnydale and discovers that it is truly a “whole new world” in more ways than she bargained for. And “City Of,” while unique in that Buffy viewers have a greater understanding of Angel and Cordelia’s characters than those tuning in for the first time, still needs to introduce Angel’s current goals and set up just what kind of show Angel wants to be.

And while both episodes were entertaining, I’m going to make the argument that neither of them were actually that successful when considered as the beginning of their respective seasons.

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Cultural Catchup Project: Decision Time (Buffy and Angel)

Decision Time

June 13th, 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.

When I sat down to considering the overwhelming amount of feedback in regards to the future of the Cultural Catchup Project, I felt as if I was a supreme court justice considering the fairness of a long-standing law. There were clear arguments from both sides, and it wasn’t as if any one opinion was wrong: for a while, it seemed like my decision would in some way serve as a definitive argument in favour of a particular side, a power that comes with a great responsibility which is a little bit exciting.

However, I realized when I really sat down to consider the situation that it is a power that I am not capable of wielding. What the response to that post demonstrate is that everyone feels differently about this issue, and prioritizing any one person’s opinion or even the majority opinion would be almost impossible. I’d love to be the one to finally determine the absolute best way to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, but it’s impossible to make that determination unless I’ve, you know, actually watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel in various different configurations with an objective eye towards what I’ve been watching.

And when I really think about it, as much as I remain objective regarding my view of this series due to my position as a critical observer of television, I ultimately want my experience with Buffy and Angel to be as subjective as possible without losing all semblance of objectivity. I want to follow not necessarily what will result in the best experience but rather what will result in the most satisfying experience even if it is objectively inferior to other alternatives.

As a result, I can officially announce that…

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Cultural Catchup Project: “Graduation Day” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Graduation Day”

June 7th, 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.

“The Future is Ours”

In many ways, “Graduation Day” is a story simply told.

Filled to the brim with shared anxieties and common goals, the two-part season finale is almost claustrophobic in its focus on how our central characters respond to the circumstances which are threatening to change their lives forever. Conveniently conflating graduation and ascension, the series uses the end of the world as a way to exaggerate (within reason) the fear of the future, the uncertainty which defines high school students as they prepare to enter the real world.

As two hours of television, it’s a densely plotted rollercoaster which operates in carefully designed half measures which create conflict and chaos without losing sight of the psychological ramifications within the episode’s action; as the conclusion of Buffy’s finest season to date, it’s a reminder of the ways in which the series has forever blurred the line between human and demon to the point where empathy is no longer a one-way street, uniting the series in a way that it may never be able to achieve again.

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Cultural Catchup Project: How Do You Solve a (Scheduling) Problem Like Angelus?

How do you Solve a (Scheduling) Problem like Angelus?

June 4th, 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.

We have reached a crossroads in our journey with Buffy the Vampire Slayer – later today, I intend on watching “Graduation Day,” at which point I will be officially done the show’s third season. Now, I’ll likely take the weekend to write about that finale and Season Three as a whole (which will include the previous four episodes of the series, which I haven’t found the motivation to write about in further detail amidst a fairly busy period of time but which seem to be building towards the finale in a way which will make my essay on the finale more complex), but there are other pressing concerns which need to be addressed.

While I’m looking forward to the finale, I’m also looking forward to what comes afterwards, the million dollar question of sorts. When I started this project, I committed to doing both Buffy and Angel this summer, and I don’t entirely think I understood the enormity of that task. Just so we’re clear, enormity isn’t all bad: I don’t mind watching large volumes of entertaining television, after all. That being said, I can’t help but feel like the decision I make now will fundamentally change how I experience two different television series, and it’s a decision I do not want to make lightly.

Accordingly, I want to run down my options here at the blog, and then ask anyone with experience in this area to share their own opinions on how, precisely, to handle the complicated nature of the series’ crossover episodes which start with Buffy’s fourth season as Angel splits off into its own narrative. I’m aware there is no right answer, and ultimately this is going to be a gut sort of thing, but I still want to see what the Cultural Catchup Commenters, those who have been reading but not wading into the discussion, and even those who haven’t been following the project at all, have to say on the issue.

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Cultural Catchup Project: “Doppelgangland” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Doppelgangland”

May 29th, 2010

“Different circumstances, that could be me.”

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.

When I remarked a while ago that I intended on focusing on fewer individual episodes during Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s third season, there was a resounding chorus which indicated that “Doppelgangland” absolutely had to be one of them. Not one to fight against a group capable of such raucous consensus, I made a note of it and so here we are.

However, let’s rewind for a second to that initial moment where the episode was suggested so heavily. At the time, since the commenters were so kind as to avoid spoilers, I had no idea why they were suggesting “Doppelgangland;” while when we eventually get to an episode like “Hush” I know enough about the plot to have some sense of what to anticipate, here I have no expectations beyond the comment hype. Is everyone so interested in it because it features a huge step forward for the mythology (like “Surprise”/”Innocence?”), or is it that the episode offers something different that has captured fans’ collective attention?

Part of what makes Buffy so great is that there isn’t just one kind of “good” episode, which meant that all of the hype in the world couldn’t have kept “Doppelgangland” from being at least a bit mysterious when I sat down to watch it. I can’t entirely speak for those who requested the episode, but I can say for me personally that this one’s worth writing about because it’s a barrel full of fun which doesn’t feel like it sacrifices the show’s complexity to achieve such enjoyment. The episode is a rumination on Willow’s unique place as both the most “innocent” (through her general attitude in life) and the most “corrupted” (through the dark arts) of the Scoobies, and the dualities therein give Alyson Hannigan some fantastic material and simultaneously become a thematic consideration that is meaningful to the series’s larger narrative.

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Cultural Catchup Project: Plumbing the Depths of Darkness (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Plumbing the Depths of Darkness

May 23rd, 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.

I am at the point in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s run where I’m starting to see the trends forming: when I hear that it’s Buffy’s birthday, for example, I know that things aren’t going to go so well.

However, I’m still capable of being surprised when I’m supposed to be surprised; when the show wants to pull the rug out from under me, chances are I’m still going trip and fall just like everyone did at the end of the last century. Part of Buffy’s appeal is the ability to zig when you expect them to zag, to turn a story from a playful romp into something much darker. What I’m finding really evocative in the third season is the ways in which the darkness seems darker (see: “Consequences”) even as the lighter stories are perhaps the lightest we’ve ever seen them (see: “The Zeppo,” although in a weird sort of way I’ll get into), two things which few shows rarely attempt to do simultaneously.

I think it ultimately works, both because it’s extremely well-executed and (more importantly) because it’s remarkably ballsy.

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Cultural Catchup Project: Bewitched, Bothered but Familiar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Bewitched, Bothered but Familiar

May 19th, 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 viewers of television, we value the element of surprise: we like to be shocked, to see things we didn’t expect and get that surge of adrenaline that comes with the best kind of storytelling. However, at the same time, we want to feel as if things are familiar: we may not want to be able to predict precisely what will happen, but we do want to have some sense of how things would play out should something unexpected unfold. In short, the best television delivers familiarity within the unfamiliar, going beyond our expectations without shattering our understanding of these characters or this universe.

With a show like Buffy, the greatest challenge is separating the intense fan responses to the series from the characters themselves. When Angel suddenly returned from the realms of Hell and struggled to reconnect with his past life, I was pleased: he’s an interesting character who complicates the protagonist’s life in fascinating ways, so why wouldn’t I want him to return and bring with him the baggage from “Becoming?” However, I realized in “Revelations” that the rest of the show’s characters wouldn’t be quite so pleased to see him, their own reactions to Angel as a character separate from their enjoyment of complex serialized narratives.

Angel’s return was unpredictable (except for the decision to keep him in the opening credits, of course), but the way in which characters respond feels familiar, continuous with what we’ve seen in the past two seasons. And when the show turns over the spotlight onto the character’s past in “Amends,” as he becomes weighed down by the intense guilt pervasive within his soul, it manages to capture the unique qualities which make the character so difficult to relate to and thus so easy to empathize with – this is not a show with one-dimensional struggles, and Angel’s return manages to be both dramatic and intriguing without turning any of the show’s characters into single-minded archetypes in the chaos surrounding his mysterious return.

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