Tag Archives: Joss Whedon

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: The Function of Mystery and the Mystery of Function (Angel)

The Function of Mystery and the Mystery of Function

July 24rd, 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 second season of Angel isn’t really that different from the first.

Certainly, the show is introducing new elements (The Host and his Karaoke Bar), new characters (bringing Gunn further into the fold), and new villains (the newly resurrected Darla). However, the way each episode is structured is more or less the same as it was before, so the show hasn’t gone through some sort of radical invention or anything – in fact, the premiere was very much designed to ground the series in Angel’s day-to-day investigations rather than the overarching prophecy.

However, the following episodes of the second season indicate where the differences between the two seasons lie. The first season, as a result of the character swap with Doyle and Wesley at the mid-way point, was always building an aesthetic foundation or building a character foundation, rarely feeling as if they were taking things to that next level. The episodes which start Season Two are not that fundamentally different than those which came before, but there is (to varying degrees) a mystery and an uncertainty about their function: while there are still Wesley episodes and Gunn episodes which aspire to clear patterns, there is that added level of complexity both with the overt serialized arc as well as the sense of possibility which comes with it.

It doesn’t truly change the show, but it ratchets things up a notch in a subtle and effective fashion.

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Cultural Catchup Project: “Judgment” (Angel)

“Judgment”

July 21st, 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 road to redemption is a rocky path.

There is no question that the conclusion to Angel’s first season, “To Shanshu in L.A.,” was a bridge to the second season, with the return of a figure from Angel’s past and a prophecy which indicated that there might be, to quote Angel, “light at the end of the tunnel.”

However, it’s important not to mistake momentum for structure, and “Judgment” makes it extremely clear that not everything is as clean as it seems. The show doesn’t abandon the ramifications of the first season finale, but it does indicate that moving on isn’t an immediate process: rather than clearly establishing a path to salvation, providing the series with a distinct sense of direction, the premiere instead focuses on how the characters are confronting their new reality, and how they will continue to confront it for the rest of the season.

“Judgment” is not interested in turning the series on its ear so much as it desires to establish that nothing has changed but the determination of our lead characters, which sets the stage for an engaging, and unpredictable, second season.

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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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