Tag Archives: Joss Whedon

Cultural Catchup Project: “Buffy vs. Dracula” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Buffy vs. Dracula”

July 16th, 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.

“Buffy vs. Dracula” is both a thematic companion for and a definite departure from the series’ past. The last two premieres have featured Buffy facing questions about her identity (in “Anne” and “The Freshman”), and her altercation with Dracula is built around similar questions; however, whereas it seemed as if Buffy was struggling to stay afloat amidst the world changing around her at the start of the third and fourth seasons, here she seems to be struggling within, gaining new perspectives on her power and its control over her actions and desires. In that sense, the episode represents a clear continuation, and evolution of numerous elements at play within the fourth season, especially within the First Slayer’s appearance in “Restless.”

However, at the same time, “Buffy vs. Dracula” is also a tad bit silly. I won’t go so gar as to say that it is cheesy, but there’s a clear disconnect between the Dracula who takes part in Buffy’s story and that character’s influence on the rest of the episode. While the core idea of Dracula’s involvement is well executed by Marti Noxon (the first writer to take on a premiere other than Whedon), the rest of the episode relies on comic scenarios which are not so much unwelcome as they are incongruous with the episode’s central function. While it isn’t a departure for the series to engage with comedy, the way it is deployed in the episode rather lazily fills in the gaps between the dramatic scenes, failing to integrate the two parts of the episode successfully and truly live up to its potential, potential which nonetheless remains clear based on the strength of the eponymous comparison.

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

“Restless”

July 12th, 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.

There have been a few points in this project where my thoughts on Buffy and Angel have diverged from the general sentiments of the commenters, and I am very glad for this fact: I like that there’s some disagreement, as it allows for new perspectives and for intriguing discussion.

However, I do wish that two of those points hadn’t come in such close proximity with one another, as they have with “To Shanshu in L.A.” and “Restless.” Leading into these episodes, a lot of comments were building up the hype for these hours of television, suggesting that the former was a major turning point for the series and that the latter was on a level with “Hush,” and inevitably I feel that both episodes fail to live up to those lofty expectations.

While I thought “To Shanshu in L.A.” was inherently flawed in terms of how it exaggerated certain developments for the sake of thematic convenience, my issue with “Restless” is that it doesn’t live up to the hype, ending up more generic than I had expected. While the central idea of the episode is well-executed, and I can see the seeds of where the show intends to go with the show’s fifth season, I expected the episode to mean something, for its oddities to coalesce into something tangible which would speak coherently to either the season we just witnessed or the one which is yet to come – instead, the episode coalesces into a pretty typical monster of the week storyline which happens to use dreams as its central construct.

This is not to say that some of the dreams aren’t successful, or that the episode isn’t well-executed, but rather that the same quality which made “Hush” so effective, its connection with ongoing storylines, feels lost when the abstraction gives way to a storyline which fails to capture the full potential of this premise.

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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: One Faith, Three Narratives (Buffy and Angel)

One Faith, Three Narratives

July 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.

When I wrote about the first crossover between Buffy and Angel, I wrote that it wasn’t so much a crossover as it was ancillary elements (a returning Spike, the Gem of Amara) crossing between the two series and created largely independent stories which happened to share a basic foundation. However, Spike was a fun villain at that time as opposed to a neutered anti-hero, and the Gem of Amara was a simple MacGuffin without much meaning, so the episodes were meaningful less for what crossed over and more for the stories which those elements created for each series’ respective arc.

As we arrive at the final crossover event (stretching, technically, over five episodes) of the season, what’s clear is that the rules have changed: while the awakened Faith is, like Spike, a character-based connection between the two worlds, it is a connection with much more baggage than Spike’s villainy, and one with wide-reaching complications for both narratives. Whedon is very interested in Faith’s story, which remains diverse and compelling over the course of these episodes, but he is acutely aware of the different role her story plays in each series: while there is technically a clear thread which charts Faith’s behaviour over the course of the four episodes in which she appears, there is a distinction between how much each series focuses on her story as opposed to the story of those around her.

The result is three separate stories, unquestionably connected but distinct in terms of their sense of momentum. While a single narrative of Faith’s awakening stretches over both series, and Buffy and Angel travel back and forth between the two shows working out some of their lingering issues, Faith’s impact on Buffy’s narrative (in “This Year’s Girl” and “Who Are You”) is very different from Faith’s impact on Angel’s narrative (in “Five by Five” and “Sanctuary”), her story finding the series in two very different places which result in unique consequences.

For Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Faith’s return is a continuation of a past storyline and a thematic reminder for the series’ ongoing arc; for Angel, Faith’s return is a turning point for the series’ sense of narrative momentum and character dynamics. Throw in Faith’s individual narrative, and you’ve got the sort of television event that you don’t see every day, and one which helps justify the decision to watch the two series simultaneously even in its quasi-fractured structure.

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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: When One Door Closes… (Angel)

When One Door Closes…

June 29th, 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.

There’s been some concern in the comments as of late about how much I’m being spoiled by their contents, which is a legitimate concern that I’ve sort of accepted as the cost of doing business. I certainly appreciate those who avoid spoilers, but I also don’t begrudge those who can’t contain themselves and reveal something small from the future. In some cases, you’re simply being reassuring or helpful: it is technically a spoiler that, for example, Wesley and Cordelia’s character arcs would be continuing on Angel, but it’s not as if the real value of those character arcs comes from the surprise of their appearance. Knowing that fact does not take away the impact of each character becoming part of a different series, but rather puts that seed into my mind for the future.

The one legitimate spoiler I’ve had in regards to Angel arrived far sooner than I expected it to: while a certain Twitter compatriot to remain unnamed mistakenly spoiled the central event in “Hero,” I had no context for when that event was going to arrive, and so I sort of presumed that it was a spoiler for a much later period in the series rather than the midway point of its first season. Yes, I would have been much more viscerally shocked had this closed door come as a complete surprise, but since I didn’t know when it was coming its impact on the narrative remains quite the same. If “I Will Remember You” closed the door on any hope of Buffy and Angel truly reconciling, then “Hero” closes the door on the notion that Los Angeles will be any less dark than Sunnydale.

Although, strangely though, the door that opens is awfully familiar for those who’ve spent time around southern California’s Hellmouth.

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Cultural Catchup Project: “Pangs”/”I Will Remember You” (Buffy and Angel)

“Pangs”/”I Will Remember You”

June 28th, 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 noted in my review of the episodes of Angel which led up to “I Will Remember You” that Angel, as a character, wasn’t really the focus of the episodes in question. As pointed out in the comments, this is quite logical: Doyle is the new character who needs to be introduced properly for the series to succeed, and Cordelia best bridges the gap between Angel’s business and the kind of person he tends to help (the helpless). However, since “Bachelor Party” closed with Angel running off to rescue Buffy from peril, I sort of presumed that the latest crossover between the two series would help rectify this particular issue.

“Pangs” and “I Will Remember You” do, in fact, bring Angel back to the forefront of his own series, but I find it interesting how imbalanced the episodes are in his favour: while Buffy may appear in “I Will Remember You,” the episode’s narrative devalues the crossover from Buffy’s perspective to the point where these episodes don’t actually impact Buffy’s character in any substantial fashion. Buffy is a series currently juggling a large number of storylines, while Angel is by comparison fairly open-ended: as a result, while Buffy and Angel’s relationship completely takes over in “I Will Remember You,” “Pangs” remains grounded by Buffy’s ongoing arc to the point where the episode actually feels fairly uneventful (if still functional).

However, the value of the crossover is found in “I Will Remember You,” which is an incredibly important episode if we consider Angel as its own standalone series. To this point left in abstraction for viewers to fill in either through watching Buffy or learning about it from someone who watched the earlier series, Angel’s relationship with Buffy invades the spinoff in its nascent stages, a decision which is especially dangerous considering the narrative arc created in the episode. There’s every chance that this crossover, merging the two worlds together, will make it so viewers will wonder why they were ever split apart in the first place, and lead to resentment over the fact that they won’t truly be reconciling.

I’d argue, though, that a heavy dose of character-appropriate tragedy leads “I Will Remember You” away from nostalgic desires towards further building Angel as a protagonist in his own right, an important step for the spinoff series.

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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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