Tag Archives: Giles

Cultural Catchup Project: Stuck in a Story You Can Get Out Of (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Stuck in a Story You Can Get Out Of

July 9th, 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 knew of Season Four’s somewhat divisive nature before I started watching it, but I’m sort of glad for this knowledge: while going in unspoiled might have created a more visceral response to the material, I’ve found it quite stimulating to be able to sort of reconstruct the initial disappointment with the season while I’m experiencing it for the first time. I think watching it on DVD, inevitably, won’t create the same sort of response that viewers experienced back at the turn of the century, as watching at this pace the season’s low points go by pretty quickly and are largely overshadowed by some really strong individual episodes sprinkled throughout the season. I’ve seen the moments when fans would begin to be frustrated, but I’ve yet to see anything that would really turn me against the season, and heading into the final series of episodes I was anticipating something to really change my mind.

However, I’ve watched up to “Primeval” with only the much-beloved “Restless” waiting for me, and I’ve yet to see anything here which really cripples Season Four. I still have plenty of reservations about Adam, and the Initiative, and how wacky and incoherent much of “Primeval” ends up being as a result of its focus on those elements, but this season was never at any point in time about those elements. Every now and then the series would get too caught up in these particular parts of the season, but it was common for the show to step out of them entirely, able to deliver the genius of “Superstar” or return to Oz’s storyline in “New Moon Rising” without feeling as if the overarching storyline was being neglected.

The relative insignificance of the Initiative and Adam is at once the season’s greatest failure and its redemptive quality: while it keeps the season from reaching anywhere close to the Mayor’s arc in the third season, the fact that it doesn’t truly dominate the season’s narrative allows for the subtle character transformations unfolding to rise to the surface, keeping the intriguing but ultimately underdeveloped Initiative storyline secondary to the parts of the show which really matter.

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Cultural Catchup Project: Taking a Turn in Season Four (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Taking a Turn in Season Four

July 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.

In discussing this series of episodes as a collective whole, I am neither making a commentary on their individual merits nor suggesting that they are all working towards the same thematic purpose. Rather, as I noted in my most recent “Angel” post, I want to talk about the two-parters in their own posts, and so I’m sort of forced to lump these together to avoid going overboard with the reviews (not that you’d mind, but I do need to spread out my time). Plus, the plot moves so quickly in this series of episodes that it’s hard to really write about them individually after watching a number of them in succession: any of the positivity at the end of “Doomed” is complicated by “The I in Team” and “Goodbye Iowa,” to the point where I need to consider the progress of the arcs as a whole rather than the individual segments.

And so before I take a brief glimpse at “A New Man” individually (since it doesn’t have much to do with these arcs, even as it intersects with them in subtle ways), I want to focus on Riley, Maggie and Adam at this important juncture of Buffy’s fourth season, where the series very quickly transitions from a pretty open-ended season structure to a clear, objective-driven protagonist/antagonist structure, albeit one which remains complex (although perhaps not as complex as I might have liked).

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

“Hush”

July 1st, 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 fairly certain I’ve seen the final few minutes of “Hush” before.

It was some time early in the decade, and Canada’s SPACE was airing the “Top 10 Buffy Episodes” in a day-long marathon which my brother was either watching or recording. I have no memory of watching an entire episode, or even which episodes I was seeing, but I remember Riley crouched down in some sort of crawl space with a gun, and I recognized the Gentlemen in that vague type of recall which is created when you aren’t really paying attention to what you’re watching.

I don’t know if I want to go back in time a la the Doctor and force myself to sit down for the entirety of that marathon, as watching the episode out of order would rob it of some of its appeal, but I do certainly wish that I could go back in time and experience this with everyone else at the turn of the century. More than any other episode of Buffy so far, I wish that I could have been there to write a review and to analyze the myriad of ways in which this is easily the most well-executed hour of television Buffy has produced to this point. While other episodes have been more emotionally resonant or explosive, no other episode has felt this expertly and ingeniously crafted. Compelling both as a standalone piece of entertainment and as an advancement of the season’s story arcs, “Hush” didn’t leave me speechless so much as it made me wish that I could go back to the turn of the century and be part of the initial response to what is rightfully heralded as one of the series’ finest moments.

And since I don’t have a TARDIS sitting around, writing about it now will have to do.

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

“Something Blue”

June 30th, 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.

“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.

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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: 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: “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: 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.”

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Cultural Catchup Project: “Faith, Hope & Trick” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“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.

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