Tuesday, 1 September 2015

FEATURE: Angel - In The Dark

Previously on Angel: Tall, dark and forehead is now working in LA as a sort-of private detective, aided by Cordelia Chase and a half-demon called Doyle who has visions that offer clues for upcoming cases.

Beginning with one of the funniest cold opens ever (and yes I have typed the entire Spike-dubbed conversation below, just for you guys), Spike lands in Los Angeles on the quest to recover the Gem of Amarra after Buffy kicked the crap out of him back in Sunnydale. Oz has the Gem and has taken it straight to Angel for a nice mini Scoobies reunion. However, with the help of the sadistic vampire Marcus, Spike traps Angel and tortures him for the Gem's location and it's up to Oz, Cordelia and Doyle to save the day.

Oz slots into the LA set-up with ease, his natural lack of verbosity allowing for some comedy moments with the equally laconic Angel and a motormouth Cordelia in need of some Sunnydale news. Likewise, Spike's particular brand of nastiness is allowed to be let loose in this darker setting, employing a sadistic vampire with a talent for torture to extract the information about the ring from Angel. And any adversarial interplay between James Marsters and David Boreanaz is worth it. Spike continues to be the Wile E. Coyote of the Buffyverse at this stage and it's always fun to see it all go wrong for him.

The episode also takes advantage of the opportunity to play with the show's not-yet-settled dynamics as Angel becomes the one in trouble with Cordelia and Doyle the ones who need to save him. Their gentle joshing is the most adorable aspect of these early Angel episodes. It's fun to see them be the heroes, coming up with a successful plan to rescue Angel, even if they do inadvertently give the ring to freaky torture vampire.

The use of the Gem of Amarra in the episode crystallises much of what has already been said about the direction that Angel's arc will take in his own series as it is in the torturing scenes. Destroying it is necessary; no one vampire should have that amount of power, particularly one as vicious as Angelus is if he turns up again. As he says to Rachel, the woman he's helping, there's the easy fix (which is what taking the ring would be) or the difficult road. 

For Angel, it's achieving some form of atonement for his previous life and it has to be the hard road. The idea of light and dark is weaved throughout the episode and, just as the Shanzu prophecy which will crop later reinforces, Angel has to walk "in the dark" before he can achieve that redemption.

I also love that Angel positions himself as a champion for the marginalised, the ones living in the dark of society, without the help that the "9-5" people get. As a show, Buffy was always concerned with those people, the ones the rest of society forgets are there or refuses to see. Angel gleefully picks up that mantle and runs with it, the big city hiding more adult fears within its shadows. It isn't hard to understand why these shows became so popular with the people who felt like they didn't fit in anywhere. They placed us front and centre, whether we were nerds, unpopular, lonely or scared. 

And that very final scene, of Angel and Doyle sitting as the sun goes down, allows us to glimpse our heroic vampire's vulnerability too as he admits he was on the verge of confessing everything under torture. It might be just a throwaway line that also chucks in a your mom joke for good measure, but it's just a little effort towards humanising Angel and building his character. 

Quote of the Week:

Spike [as Rachel]: How can I thank you, you mysterious black-clad hunk of a night thing?
Spike [as Angel]: No need, little lady. Your tears of gratitude are enough for me. You see, I was once a badass vampire, but love and a pesky curse defanged me and now, I'm just a big fluffy puppy with bad teeth.
[Rachel goes to touch Angel's hair]
Spike: No, not the hair! Never the hair.
Spike [as Rachel]: But there must be some way I can show my appreciation?
Spike [as Angel]: No helping those in need's my job and workin' up a load of sexual tension and prancing away like a magnificent poof is truly thanks enough.
Spike [as Rachel]: I understand... I have a nephew who's gay, so- [gasps]
Spike [as Angel]: Say no more. Evil's still afoot. And I'm almost out of that nancy-boy hair-gel I like so much. Quickly! To the Angel-mobile! Away!

Let's Get Trivial: This is Oz's only appearance on Angel and the episode marks the only time four original Buffy cast members are in the same episode together.

The Buffy Connection: This episode follows on from the events of The Harsh Light of Day in which Buffy gives Oz the Gem of Amarra to pass on to Angel.

- Becky

You can read Becky's look at previous episode Lonely Heart here.

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Thursday, 27 August 2015

FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Harsh Light of Day

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy and Willow are now roommates after Buffy's former roommate, Kathy, turned out to be a transdimensional demon. Giles remains unemployed and Xander is back living in his parents' basement. Angel is now in LA and Buffy has caught the eye of Parker Abrams, another student of UC Sunnydale.

After his drunken shenanigans in Lover's Walk, Spike returns to Sunnydale with the newly-vamped Harmony. She promptly attacks Willow and reveals herself to the gang. Spike is searching for something underneath Sunnydale and is trying to keep a low profile, but Harmony's demanding ways soon give him away. Meanwhile, Buffy's relationship with Parker develops and sadly, she doesn't realise he's a complete sleazeball before she sleeps with him. Anya also returns to renew her relationship with Xander and takes a little further than he was expecting. 

After the first couple of bedding in episodes, The Harsh Light of Day is where the fourth season starts to move forward, re-introducing fan favourite Spike to the proceedings as he'll go on to become increasingly important. His arrival back in Sunnydale is not quite as beer happy as his previous one, but he has once again dispensed with Dru and is on the search for the Gem of Amarra, a ring which would render him impervious to any kind of harm. His relationship with Harmony is easily the funniest part of the episode as she regularly foils her Blondie Bear's plans. That is until he starts verbally abusing her and it gets a nasty streak fast.

Likewise, Anya's relationship with Xander takes on a similar twist as the pair have sex, instigated by Anya, allowing for a premature juice carton spurt joke. It's not on quite the same intensity level as the treatment that both Harmony and Buffy receive, but it's certainly on the same spectrum. She offers herself freely to Xander emotionally and he takes her words at face value. Xander's always been a bit of a pig when it comes to women anyway, so it's hardly surprising that he doesn't realise rejecting Anya in such a fashion is actually pretty hurtful to her.

Now, if you will allow me to get up on my soapbox for a minute, I've often seen this episode cited as an example of how Buffy is usually punished after she has sex/all sex is bad in Buffy. It has cropped up again in the recent post-Black Widow Joss Whedon backlash that claims, in a very brief summary, that the man can't write women and has been eviscerated once again for his feminism. It would be remiss of me not to engage in these topics during this rewatch and I think I'd have treated this episode differently had I watched it before the Black Widow criticisms dragged this all up again. 

First of all, everyone using this episode conveniently forgets it was written by Jane Espenson, amazing woman and a personal hero of mine. Secondly, I think the one sole detail of Parker rejecting Buffy after they have had sex is the only thing that ever gets remembered about the episode, which is cherrypicking of the highest order. The entire episode revolves around women being mistreated and abused in some way.

It does not punish Buffy for having sex. Nor does it punish Anya or Harmony. What it does do is show how these women are mistreated and objectified by the men around them in a world where female sexuality is still treated as something to be mocked and shunned. And men like Parker sadly exist and exist in great numbers, especially on a university campus. The show depicting sexism is not the same as the show being sexist itself and this is something that needs to be remembered. Buffy, Anya and Harmony are used and put down again, their loneliness and neuroses taken advantage of in service of a man's needs. To paraphrase Willow in this episode, men are poopheads.

This episode is entirely a criticism of how men treat women (just as it was with sleeping with Angel) and depicts how women internalise this; the Willow and Buffy scene at the end is entirely crucial to that and again, is often gets forgotten amidst the criticisms. It is not Buffy in the wrong here and it's amazing that she can be so emotionally vulnerable as well as being physically strong. She's always been a character that wears her emotions on her sleeve and doing so here is entirely in keeping with that. It also results in a heartrending little scene as the three women wander across campus, entirely alone in their pain. It's one of the show's most relatable moments and for that, it should be remembered.

Of course, a lot of its good work with Buffy is undone again in Beer Bad, but we shall get to that shortly.

This is also the first episode to lead into a crossover proper as The Harsh Light of Day feeds into the Angel episode, Into the Dark, as Oz prepares to take the Gem of Amarra to Angel to decide what to do with at Buffy's request. Even the synergy of the names show how well planned out these crossovers are and it's going to be fun to watch the Angel episode in light of this one straight before (pun intended). 

Having grown up watching Buffy and eagerly anticipated Angel's arrival in the UK, it all went a bit wrong when Channel 4 got the rights to it, didn't show the episodes at the right times to work with the crossovers with Buffy on BBC2 and then moved it to a late night slot so I couldn't watch it anymore (I was still very much under parental rule at this point). All of this means that these rewatches are the first time I'm actually watching these episodes in the order intended and I'm hoping it's going to be a much more fruitful experience than scrabbling between channels or watching DVDs many years later.

Quote of the Week:

Xander: I don't get your crazy system.
Giles: System? It's called the alphabet.

Let's Get Trivial: Sarah Michelle Gellar disagreed with Buffy sleeping with Parker, arguing that it was too soon after Angel. This has been mentioned by Joss Whedon in several interviews, but he replied to her with "you go to college, you do stupid things."

- Becky

You can read Becky's look at Living Conditions here.

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Tuesday, 25 August 2015

FEATURE: Angel - Lonely Heart

Previously on Angel: The vamp with a soul has taken up residence in LA and is now working with a half-demon called Doyle who has premonitions and Cordelia Chase who gave herself a job after finding out what Angel is up to. They're now an investigation agency designed to take on those people in need of help from the forces of darkness.

Whilst trying to get Angel to put in a good word for him with Cordelia, Doyle has a vision of one of those 'terminally stuck in the 80s' places and the gang race off to see what might be happening there. Angel meets Kate Lockley over the course of his not-so-subtle attempts to investigate the place in an awkward meet-cute in which he states that he's a vetinarian. After a dead body turns up, the gang realise they're dealing with some kind of symbiotic demon, jumping from host to host and killing people in the process. A coincidence at a crime scene reveals Kate to be a police detective who immediately jumps to the conclusion that Angel is the serial killer.

The episode mines a lot of its humour from the fish out of water stuff that Angel, Cordelia and Doyle suffer from respectively. Angel in particular once again demonstrates that talking to people really isn't his thing and his conversation with Kate is a little too earnest to register high on the laugh scale. In fact,  too earnest is a good way to describe the episode as a whole in its treatment of loneliness. Rather than subtly underlaying the theme within the story, it's hammered home again and again that these people are lonely and it gives serial killers/demons the chance to prey on those people.

Given that this is a major theme of City Of too, not to mention Buffy's alienation in her own series at the moment, it all feels a bit repetitive (especially when watching them in close proximity). I also spent a lot of this episode thinking of the terrible Torchwood episode where they did something similar with an alien and Gwen got all hyper-sexed and made out with everyone. At least Lonely Heart is better than that. For one thing, the actual demon is a pretty grim spectacle and suitably penetrative for its sex-based shenanigans, giving the episode a nasty body horror element that works well. I do find it amusing that the demon loses all game after he gets the crap kicked out of him.

Lonely Heart also pushes more towards the noir end of the genre spectrum as the investigative side of Angel comes to the fore with the use of Doyle's vision as the kick-off point. There a couple of genre calling cards in there; the loneliness of the big city, Kate as the dame in the bar, Angel as the lone wolf investigator. You also get the twist at the end where Kate think it's the barman that has done it all along, a neat non-supernatural wrap-up for her. 

But again, the whole episode feels like it's trying too hard at all times and as a result, it never quite sparks into life. It brings us the Kate and Angel relationship which will be an important one as the series progresses though she doesn't know he's a vampire as of yet. However, Lonely Heart doesn't really advance us much further than reminding us everyone gets lonely in the big city and we all kinda knew that anyway. It seems somewhat fitting that the episode ends as it began.

Quote of the Week:

Angel: I know you guys have been working hard, couped up inside a lot and to show my appreciation, I was thinking; the night being young and all, that the three of us could... or should.. you know, maybe... go out? You know... for fun.
Cordelia: Or we can go home.
Doyle: And you can sit in the dark alone.
Angel: ... God yes. Thank you.

Let's Get Trivial: Originally, this episode was a whole lot darker and you can check out the full details (including prostitutes and drug addiction) right here - Thank you to Jonathan Cardwell (@Jonny_C85) for sharing this morbid alternate Angel reality with us! 

- Becky

You can read Becky's look at City Of here.

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Thursday, 20 August 2015

FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Living Conditions

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The gang have now entered the college years, or at least, Oz, Buffy and Willow have. Xander is back living with his parents and Giles is enjoying unemployment. Buffy is still having trouble fitting in after her disastrous first couple of days but has a nice new roommate to get to know.

Buffy is finding difficult to adjust to life with her new roommate, Kathy. Not only does she have to find excuses for her late night patrol excursions, she has to put up with excessive Cher, accusatory milk suggestions and telephone bill systems. She also begins to have weird nightmares about a demon pouring blood down her throat and sucking her soul and, given that she's a Slayer, this doesn't really set alarm bells ringing. 

What does is her increasingly psychotic behaviour towards and about Kathy, lending the Scoobies to think that she might be possessed. But she might not be as wrong about Kathy as everyone thinks. There's also a new love interest on the horizon. We'll tackle the evil Parker Abrams in the next episode, but hey, here he is. Yeurch. The douchey warning signs are already there, but Buffy's loneliness makes her an easy target for campus arses.

Roommates/Housemates. Can't live with 'em, can't hope that they're actually a demon sucking your soul so you can get rid of them. Living with people you don't know very well is hard. Trying to ignore each other's bad habits, remain calm and make the most of the situation is enough to drive anyone mad. Passive-aggressive wars of attrition are going on right now up and down the land with that housemate of yours who just won't play nice. Post-its become weapons, whiteboards the kind of thing that could change the direction of the battle forever. Of course, not all of us have Buffy's excuse, but that doesn't make her experiences in Living Conditions any less recognisable.

It's one of the metaphors in the fourth season that actually works well, the banality of the kind of things that annoy people mixed with the evil of demon possession. Dagney Kerr's performance as the permanently upbeat Kathy is pitched at just the right level of perky annoying, allowing us into Buffy's state of exasperation and Marti Noxon's script gives Kerr some great, Ned Flanders-esque expressions. Sarah Michelle Gellar's increasing psychosis around the whole deal is also played perfectly, allowing her to fire off one liners with maniacal aplomb. Their clashes, accompanied by some nifty visual and audio editing and a suitably dramatic score, are the highlights of the episode.

The episode is undercut nicely with the ultimate reveal of Kathy's back story as a transdimensional demon who wasn't actually given permission to go to college but went anyway. The little temper tantrum she has with the demon that comes to get her is a brilliant little scene. I also love that she is without a soul, because so often when living with an absolute terror of a person, that's how it feels. It is a sad one and one which Buffy should be able to identify with, given her own quest for a normal life, but of course she gets Willow as a roommate instead. I love the little sting of Buffy's eyes narrowing.

Living Conditions suffers slightly from repeating the neuroses from the previous episode (Buffy really doesn't like people touching her things) and the 'Buffy can't get used to college' thing threatens to get tired quickly. It also marks a consecutive episode in which Buffy's assertions about the threat she's facing isn't believed. Thankfully, the sparky and insightful dialogue hides those differences well enough to produce a fun instalment.

Quote of the Week (Marti Noxon scripts are the hardest for this kind of thing):

Buffy: So then Kathy's like, 'It's share time.' And I'm like, 'Oh yeah? Share this! [throws a few air punches]
Oz: So either you hit her or you did your wacky mime routine for her...
Buffy: Well, I didn't do either actually, but she deserved it, don't you think?
Oz: Nobody deserves mime, Buffy.

Let's Get Trivial: The sixth episode so far to not feature vampires in any form. It does have evil toenail clippings though.

Demonology 101: Although we don't know she's a werewolf yet, we meet Veruca. We don't like Veruca. Everyone narrow their eyes at her.

- Becky

You can read Becky's look at The Freshman here.

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Tuesday, 18 August 2015

FEATURE: Angel - City Of

Welcome to the new, ongoing rewatch of Angel, the spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for which, if you don't know, I am already doing a weekly rewatch of. Angel rewatches will be appearing now every Tuesday, running concurrently with the Buffy ones so we can maximise the crossover potential and see how these two shows continue to fit in with each other. So, who's up for a trip to LA?

At the end of the third season of Buffy, Angel announced that he was leaving for Los Angeles as he saw no future in the relationship. He goes to do what he does best. Fight evil in a fashionably long coat. With Batman-esque gadgets and a similar taste for fashion, it's going fairly well, but soon a half-human, half-demon with an Irish accent and buckets of charm shows up, called Doyle. Doyle has visions from the Powers That Be and offers his help to Angel's ongoing quest. Meanwhile, Cordelia has come to LA in the hopes of starting an acting career and it isn't long before her path crosses with Angel's.

A pilot for a spin-off is always a tricky deal. You don't want to make it inaccessible to people who haven't managed to catch the parent show, but it also has to please the fans that have made the jump too. It also has to establish the new tone, new characters and a new location without seeming too forced. A knowledge of Buffy isn't essential for City Of beyond certain character relationships, particularly as Doyle rather handily provides an exposition recap to allow those who aren't familiar with Angel's back story to catch up. It's a nifty trick and thanks to the charismatic presence of Glenn Quinn, it doesn't feel too intrusive. 

The general mood sets up everything else with ease and though it still feels like a show searching for its own identity, and will do so for much of the first season, particularly as the investigation format takes hold. There some foundations built for future episodes too with the first appearance of so far unnamed Lindsey and his mysterious, vampire-helping law firm, Wolfram & Hart. These little moments all work to position Angel as the small guy trying to do the right thing in this world. It helps that LA itself is at once both inconceivably large yet claustrophobically threatening, something which had previously been utilised in the Buffy episode, Anne. As Angel's opening narration illustrates, the vastness of the city allows it to become a haven or a hell to all kinds of people. 

If Buffy is about the horrors of growing up, then the first season of Angel is about the horrors that result from being a grown-up, from seeing the world through adult eyes and attempting to change it one little bit at a time. Much of this is seen through Tina and then Cordelia as they attempt to navigate their supposedly burgeoning acting career. Here, the career they expected to walk into in that typical 'small-town-girl comes to LA' kind of way hasn't materialised and she finds herself as a potential victim in a stereotypical 'small-town-girl gets lost and killed in LA' kind of way. Unfortunately for Tina, Angel doesn't get there in time. When Angel finds Tina's dead body, it's a moment that comes to define the darker mentality of Angel, one in which sometimes the bad guy gets to win and our hero doesn't get to save the girl. 

That doesn't mean it's not without the same sense of humour though; there are plenty of moments in the pilot when that particular Whedonverse wit shows through, particularly in the scene where Angel goes all action man and jumps into the wrong car or Doyle unable to smash open the gates. His first meeting with Cordelia is likewise amusing as she does the full Cordy spiel, but is undercut later when we get a brief glimpse into how awful her life currently is. That said, Miss Chase isn't taken down by something like not succeeding and she even gets to figure out pretty quickly that Russell the bad guy is in possession of sharp, pointy teeth. Let's face it, there are many scary things in the Buffyverse. Cordelia is still one of them.

City Of works hard to establish Angel as a different beast to its Slayer-based older sister and though it's going to be a while before it succeeds wholly in that regard, the new Angel gets to be meaner, leaner and broodier. What more could we want?

Quote of the Week: 

Cordelia: I finally get invited to a nice place with no mirrors and lots of curtains... Hey! You're a vampire!
Russell: What? No, I'm not."
Cordelia: Are too!
Russell: I don't know what you're talking about.
Cordelia: I'm from Sunnydale. We had our own Hellmouth. I think I know a vampire when... I'm alone with him in his fortress-like home...

Let's Get Trivial: The first draft of the episode featured Whistler, the demon from Angel's past seen in Becoming, in Doyle's role as mentor.

Inventive Kill: That would be Angel kicking Russell Winters out of a very high window so he bursts into flames on the way down.

Los Angeles Who's Who: One of those vampires that Angel takes out in the beginning is none other than Lost's Josh Holloway.

The Buffy Connection: This episode reveals that the silent phone call Buffy receives at home in The Freshman is from Angel.

- Becky

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Thursday, 13 August 2015

FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Freshman

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy decides to go to UC Sunnydale in order to continue her slaying duties on the Hellmouth after she exploded the Mayor and quit the Watcher's Council. Willow joins her despite offers from seemingly every university in the world whilst Xander takes on his not-quite-Kerouac wanderings.

Buffy arrives at UC Sunnydale and immediately feels out of her comfort zone in this new, unknown environment. Meanwhile, Willow unknowingly exacerbates this by taking to the life straight away and fitting in more than she ever did in high school. Buffy's feelings of alienation take a dark turn when she realises that freshmen are disappearing, leaving nothing but a note to say that they couldn't cope. After her brief friendship with a guy called Eddie ends in such a fashion, she discovers a vampire nest led by a vamp called Sunday, who decides to inflict the same fate on the Slayer.

The first day at university is terrifying. People are throwing leaflets at you, you don't know anyone and everything looks at least ten times bigger than usual. Buffy's wandering through the Sunnydale campus and meeting all kinds of people looming at her with coloured paper is a brilliant encapsulation of that. There are so many things that can seemingly go wrong on that first day; bad first impressions, you join the wrong society, you get singled out by a nasty lecturer. Thankfully we don't usually have the roommate system here in the UK because let's face it, Kathy is terrible, but more on that next episode.

The Freshman also effectively skewers that desperation to look cool and intellectual that so many of us have when we move into halls of residence and don't have the brain of Willow with which to show off to handsome TAs. For me, that was getting the most classic of my classics on my book shelves and pretending to have read them in full view of all my slightly cult film posters. I still haven't read at least half of them, but I can talk a better game now. Sadly, no Klimt or Monet on my walls to add to Sunday's collection. 

The episode quickly establishes several dynamics that will continue throughout the fourth season (one which you will find me defending a lot of the time... Sorry), particularly with Buffy feeling lost without that comfort blanket of having everyone around her all the time. At the end of the episode, we get the first appearance of the commando guys that we later come to know as the Initiative and I remember this particular cliffhanger being something of a thrill upon first viewing. Riley, that controversial love interest figure, also makes his first appearance as Buffy lands a pile of hardbacks on his head and Maggie Walsh, a quasi-maternal figure for the Slayer as she tries to negotiate impending adulthood. Xander even starts to flesh out his role as the group's 'heart', psyching up Buffy to take down Sunday.

Speaking of whom, Sunday is so horrendously late 90s that the fact she criticises Buffy's outfit gets funnier each year, but Katherine Towne's performance ensures that she ranks as one of the best monster-of-the-week villains. She offers up a sort of anti-Buffy; a blonde, kickass leader of a gang who is used to being the Big Name on Campus, at least for creatures of the night. Her popularity and strength are what Buffy has lost, but the episode's purpose is to allow Buffy to realise that, once again, she will be able to cope with whatever is being thrown at her. Her material possessions, stolen by Sunday, represent that sense of self, but seeing them in the hands of others gives our Slayer enough momentum to kick the crap out of everyone.

Much of the fourth season attempts to navigate these identity shifts that go on when venturing out into the big, scary world of college and the sort of impending doom that it all seems to represent. The show does suffer a little from losing that 'high school is hell' comfort zone, in which the metaphors and their monsters were a more easy marriage. This season is often more experimental and it's clear that Whedon wants to keep trying to tackle those Big Ideas. 

Sometimes, it's not wholly successful and this season is probably that veers most up and down the spectrum of quality. No, I'm not looking forward to rewatching Beer Bad either. However, there are also some of Buffy's best episodes here and I am going to be majorly enthusiastic about them. You have been warned!

P.S. Don't forget that the Angel rewatch kicks off on Tuesday! Be there or be a cliche.

Quote of the Week:

Sunday: "What about breaking your arm? How's that feel?"
Buffy: "Let me answer that question with a headbutt."

Let's Get Trivial: Ok, not really trivia, but I just want to revel in the fact that Xander said "Avengers assemble" and then Joss Whedon got to do just that. GRIN.

Inventive Kill: Buffy stakes Sunday with a wicked accurate throw from across the room.

Sunnydale Who's Who: Eddie is played by Pedro Pascal, last seen as the significantly-cooler-than-Eddie Red Viper in Game of Thrones

- Becky

You can read Becky's look at Graduation Day here.

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Monday, 3 August 2015

FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Graduation Day Parts 1 & 2

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Mayor plans his Ascension with Faith as his right-hand Slayer. Angel has told Buffy that he plans to leave Sunnydale after the Mayor is stopped and head to LA whilst Xander appears to have a burgeoning, if confrontational, relationship with Anya.

Hello! We are back in business. I know it has been a long time and for anyone who has been waiting around for this next post (waves to all two of you), I do apologise for the gap between S3E20 and S3E21/22. Life stuff got in the way and we all know how that sucks when it gets in the way of Buffy watching (pun very much intended). However, I'm ready and raring to go once more and for those of you who are unaware, I shall also be watching Angel alongside Buffy as the God Whedon intended. These will begin after next week's The Freshman so as to line up the various crossover episodes on the way. So, without much more ado, let's pick up where we left off.

"Congratulations to the class of 1999. You all proved more or less adequate..."

As the gang prepare to graduate from Sunnydale High and move just down the road to UC Sunnydale, the Mayor ramps up his endgame, building towards the Ascension. He starts to tie up loose ends, inadvertently revealing to the Scoobies that he will turn into a whacking great demon which they can actually kill, as well as using Faith to distract Buffy by poisoning Angel. It leads the two Slayers to finally battle it out, but Buffy soon works out ways of saving both Angel and defeating the Mayor. Calling on the students of Sunnydale High, Graduation Day brings the fight to the Mayor.

First of all, praise must go to Harry Groener as Mayor Richard Wilkins III, the perfect kind of mundane evil and still one of the series' most memorable villains: "we don't knock during dark rituals?" He spends much of the first parter lurking in the background, mostly focusing on his relationship with Faith and his almost personable threat to the Scoobies. The second part moves him straight to the forefront, his grief for Faith moving him to try and suffocate Buffy. In that moment, he becomes a physical threat to the Scoobies, no longer a distant foe, but someone who can be stopped and killed. There's also his commencement speech is littered with the kind of macabre puns that play into his genteel humour whilst his final words, "oh, gosh" are just perfect.

The build-up to this climax is also pitch perfect as several characters are forced into life-changing decisions. Buffy turns her back on the Watcher's Council and because they are in England, they can't tell which way her back is turned. Xander is confident that he's going to die, but nevertheless refuses to run away with Anya, knowing that his place is to fight alongside Buffy until the very end. Oz and Willow take the next step in their relationship when they sleep together on the eve of Graduation, another step in the journey that is Willow becoming awesome, then evil, then awesome again (it also disproves that whole weird thread that has cropped up about sex being bad for women in Buffy, which it is if you cherrypick examples and ignore everything else). 

There is also the fight that everyone has been waiting for since the gang realised Faith was a few apples short of a bushel and let's face it, she does a really stupid thing in targeting Angel. The Buffy-Faith clash is one of the most brutally choreographed fights the show produced in its run, an emotional, violent battle to the death/coma. The outcome of Faith escaping and lapsing into a coma also means that Buffy doesn't cross that line into killing a human, despite Faith's supernatural status and the whole stabbing thing. She still remains unequivocally on the side of good.

The episodes also make it clear that Buffy and Faith's connection isn't over. Their weird collaborative dream brings back the idea that dreams are a big deal as a Slayer; Faith's cryptic dialogue is actually referencing Dawn's arrival in the fifth season with 'Little Miss Muffet' - she's later called 'curds and whey' by a crazy man who sees her true status as The Key. It's a neat little scene that not only forecasts Dawn, but the trippy, prophetic dreamstate that would return in the pattern-breaking fourth season finale, Restless.

Way back in my look at The Prom, I mentioned that I happen to think Graduation Day (both parts) is the best finale that Buffy came up with during its seven season run. It's a tough one to call because each finale finishes off their respective season perfectly, no matter the quality that has gone before. However, Graduation Day aligns not only with a season finale, but also with a kind of life finale, that of finishing high school. 'High School is Hell' has often been the mantra of the first three seasons and the finale forms the apotheosis of that idea as Sunnydale High becomes a literal battleground.

The montage that flows between the good and evil planning session is so well-edited as the two generals, Buffy and the Mayor, rally their respective forces. In the school scenes, everything is tinged with a bittersweetness as Buffy capitalises on the gratitude and faith in her that was demonstrated at The Prom, calling on the Scoobies' connections across campus to rally the students into an ad hoc army in which social boundaries cease to exist. That moment when they reveal their weaponry and start to fight is still emotional. Seeing Harmony, Larry and Jonathan fight alongside the Scoobies for the first and, in some cases, last time is one of the most joyous moments in the series as a whole; the traditionally canon fodder students get to fight their own battles and beat the bad guys. And seriously, how badass does Percy look fighting alongside Angel?

The final scene as the gang sit amongst the wreckage of the now-exploded Sunnydale High is the perfect encapsulation of that bittersweet feeling; the relief of having survived high school with your friends, as well as having defeated a hokey SFX great, big snake. It's a quiet scene, nothing but a brief reflection, but the Scoobies win and get to fight another day. 

Picking this was absolutely the most difficult decision I've had so far because it's a finale packed full of great lines. However, I couldn't not go with a classic Ozism. Quote of the Week:

Cordelia: I personally don't think it's possible to come up with a crazier plan.
Oz: We attack the Mayor with hummus.
Cordelia: I stand corrected.
Oz: Just keeping things in perspective.

Let's Get Trivial: Cordelia bags her first vampire in the final battle.

Demonology 101: Harmony's bite proves to be more than fatal and she returns as the world's most hilarious vampire later in the fourth season.

- Becky

You can read Becky's look at The Prom here.

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