Tag Archives: James Marsters

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

“After Life”

May 27th, 2011

“What else is different?”

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 term “Cultural Catchup” really has two meanings.

The first is the broad notion of catching up on television shows which have proven to be important cultural touchstones but which have escaped my gaze.

The second, however, has been the experience of witnessing the conversation on a post and then quickly “catching up” with the context that informs the conversation. This is not to say that anyone has been spoiling the show, but it’s a basic fact that those of you commenting know what’s ahead, and so as I watch through a season I often find myself rereading (or at least thinking about) previous comments and putting two and two together.

I raise this point in part because the unique nature of this viewing experience is something I like theorizing and because this sort of retroactive sense making is at the heart of “After Life,” an episode that serves as a sort of Rosetta Stone for the season premiere and the season as a whole. In many ways, this is the start of the season: whereas “Bargaining” was saddled with the task of getting from Point A to Point B, “After Life” is allowed more space to breathe and more time to explore the magical and psychological consequences of that transition.

While I don’t think the result is particularly subtle on the level of plot, coming in the form of a metaphor-turned-monster-of-the-week, the strength of that metaphor is confirmed by the unbearable weight of Buffy’s return on her friends, the audience, and more importantly Buffy herself.

And although I don’t think it retroactively solves my issues with “Bargaining,” it certainly gives the title greater meaning and establishes a tragic and poetic frame to the show’s sixth season.

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Cultural Catchup Project: One Past, Two Perspectives (Buffy and Angel)

One Past, Two Perspectives

July 26th, 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.

Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter has said that he has no intention of ever using flashbacks for the FX series, which some might find odd considering how much of the series is based on an earlier generation of conflict regarding SAMCRO’s founder, John Teller. However, each season of the series has a tightly constructed arc, and so much of its drama depends on capturing the intensity of the Sons’ daily lives that flashing back would likely disrupt any sense of momentum.

And yet, for network series with similarly complex backstories, flashback episodes are almost a necessity: with 22 episodes to deliver each year, as opposed to the 13 offered on cable, flashbacks are a good way to kill some time between major story arcs, or fill in some necessary exposition heading into a new story arc, or to simply have some fun by featuring a character who everyone seems to enjoy. “Fool to Love” and “Darla” are both flashback episodes, and even flash back to the same scenes in two instances, but they represent two distinct types of flashback episodes, which becomes clear when watched together (as they would have originally aired).

I want to talk a bit about how each series uses its respective flashback episode as a standalone piece, but I also want to look at how they work as parts of their respective seasons: while “Darla” is very clearly part of the series’ narrative arc, “Fool for Love” has a unique relationship with the momentum built by “No Place Like Home” and “Family” which offers a different take on the potential function of flashbacks.

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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: “Becoming” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Becoming”

May 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.

Every good drama series boils down to character development, and I started my analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s second season talking about how Joss Whedon was willing to create clear consequences from the end of the first season within Buffy as a character. This wasn’t a show that was going to forget where it came from, where the events of the past were going to simple fade away. As we’ve discussed, there are occasionally episodes which offer a palette cleanser, a way to sort of wind down from particularly important episodes, but the show neither forgets nor forgives.

“Becoming,” the show’s two-part second season finale, is ultimately evidence of the importance of character to the show, but it’s an episode which feels like it’s doing a lot more heavy lifting than we’re used to. This is not to say that the show isn’t building on what has been done in the past, or that any of the character development in the episode feels unearned in any way, but the introduction of flashbacks and the ability for magic to undo substantial character development are nonetheless kinks in the series’ structure. It doesn’t revolutionize the show, but it very clearly reminds us that the rules can change at any moment, and that characters are sometimes slaves to fate or magical intervention in ways which threaten their happiness, their health, and their proper development as human beings.

It’s a non-linear, unpredictable sort of character development which offers a nice conclusion to a non-linear, unpredictable sort of season.

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The Cultural Catchup Project: Season Two’s Cult of Personality (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Season Two’s Cult of Personality

April 24th, 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 a show is making the transition between its first and second seasons, personality is perhaps its greatest asset. If you’re going to be creating new stories, and if you tied off a lot of the show’s loose ends in the previous season, you’re creating a situation where suspense and anticipation are replaced by creation and expectation. These are different beasts, and if you’re not ready to fully commit to a fast-paced serialized series then your best strategy is to use your show’s personality in order to “weather the storm,” so to speak.

What Buffy the Vampire Slayer does early in its second season is use personality as its ultimate goal, if not necessarily doing so in a straightforward or consistent fashion. The show has always been about its characters, and our attachment with the series’ strong but somewhat uneven first season is likely based on Xander’s wit, or Willow’s pragmatism, or Giles’ cantankerousness, or Buffy’s hidden vulnerability. However, while the second season does continue to rely on Xander’s one-liners or Giles’ dry sense of humour, it is not content to coast by: starting with the premiere, “When She Was Bad” and extending into “Halloween,” the show puts each personality under a microscope in ways which verify the importance of personality to the success of this series on the sides of both good and evil.

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Season Finale: Caprica – “End of Line”

“End of Line”

March 26th, 2010

While I hadn’t seen “End of Line” before writing my post about Caprica’s memorable scenes and their impact on its storytelling earlier today, I could feel myself posturing towards the finale throughout writing it. While I liked “End of Line” just fine, its position as a hackneyed [mid]season finale designed to allow SyFy to split up its original programming across different quarters meant that it would be pretty much forced to push the stories that haven’t had the same sort of thematic dialogue and striking sequences as Zoe’s story to some sort of conclusion sooner than might be ideal.

And while I know Battlestar Galactica got a reputation for its cliffhangers, I don’t think Caprica is particularly good at them, especially with its pacing as it is. The result was an episode that forced every story along like it was a high speed chase, leaving no time to really stop and consider the consequences or the thematic ramifications in the process. The few stories that had a chance to stop and slow down turned out alright, and those desperate for plot advancement are probably somewhat appeased, but “End of Line” is very clearly not the end of the line, and the usual slow build that defines the series was entirely absent in an episode that offered some good thrills but left out the chills.

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