Friday, 21 December 2012

FEATURE: A Very Buffy Apocalypse

Well, we all seem to have survived the supposed end of the world... which can only mean one thing: Buffy and the Scooby Gang were on hand to prevent yet another apocalypse. Having to learn the plural of 'apocalypse' pretty damn quickly, Buffy, Giles, Willow, Xander and a whole host of other regulars have faced their fair share of world-enders in their time from trios of demons with bad forehead tattoos to a sisterhood that wanted to open the Hellmouth and bring forth tentacles of doom. In honour of their tireless efforts, in no particular order, I bring you my favourite apocalypse-related episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.


Innocence (Season 2, Episode 14)


Joss Whedon's intention for the first few seasons was always that demons and vampires should be metaphors for the horrors of high school and Innocence, one of the darkest episodes of the show's run, is perhaps the best example. The second of a two-parter, the first episode Surprise, saw Spike and Dru re-assemble a mostly unkillable demon, The Judge, a being once so powerful that he was only stopped when he was dismembered and his body parts were placed across the world (in the words of Cordelia: 'ew'). Buffy and Angel escape a fierce confrontation and go back to Angel's place where they sleep together for the first time, a momentous occasion for both of them for very different reasons; Buffy loses her virginity while Angel loses his soul and becomes the very extreme version of the post-sex abusive boyfriend. And so Innocence begins.

David Boreanaz woudn't grow into the Angel side of the character until much later when he had his own series but he was brilliant at the Angelus side of things right from the off, portraying instantly the gleeful mania and passion for emotional torture that the world's most brutal vampire is famous for. His scenes with Sarah Michelle Gellar are electric, particularly the scene where Angel (already turned without her knowledge) breaks down Buffy's confidence one insult at a time.

It's the episode in which many a character is forced to grow up and their perceptions are shattered; not only does Buffy see what Angelus really looks like but Willow finds out that current love-of-her-life Xander is making out with Cordelia and Giles sees Jenny's secret identity and discovers that surrogate-daughter Buffy isn't a little girl anymore. It's a big episode for everyone and marks a huge shift in the depth and brilliance of the show. Heartbreaking from start to finish, this is when I really started to care for these characters, tortured by the people they love. Plus, Buffy gets a rocket launcher and kicks Angelus in the nads. What is not to love about that?

Quotage: 

Joyce: What did you do for your birthday?
Buffy: I got older.


Graduation Day Parts One & Two (Season 3, Episodes 21 & 22)


Ok I'm cheating slightly by including both episodes but the two are concerned with the impending doom of the Mayor's ascension. Most Buffy finales deal with a dark apocalypse but this is one of the lightest of the bunch in terms of the material, despite seeing Buffy nearly killing Faith and Angel nearly killing Buffy. It's the last high school-set episode before the gang would depart for UC Sunnydale and marks another big transition - Buffy has to face graduation. The Mayor's big plan has been building since Season 2 (he doesn't appear but is mentioned a lot in terms of strange happenings; a neat bit of foreshadowing there) and throughout Season 3, culminating in his Commencement Address in which he plans to ascend to what is, essentially, a bloody big snake. The effects haven't aged well but hey, who cares?

The final battle between the vampires, big-snake-Mayor and Sunnydale High students is a great set-piece that sees Buffy, Xander and Willow marshall the troupes in one of the only times we actually see non-Scoobies helping the gang out. Then there's the Mayor himself, one of the best villains of the series; polite, intelligent and completely bonkers, he was both terrifying and hilarious in equal measure. We also get the big battle between Buffy and Faith that has been on its way throughout the season, given the added drama of the pair being the only people who could save Angel's life. 

From hereon in, everything changes; the high school setting which worked so well metaphorically is no longer there (and the show sometimes struggles to get that angle back) and it's goodbye to Angel who departs for LA and his very own show. Season 3 is probably the most consistently excellent season of the show's run and the Graduation Day two-parter brings it to a close with a bang. Literally. 

Quotage:

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.

Chosen (Season 7, Episode 22)


Season 7 is, by general consensus, not the best. It suffered from annoying Potentials, endless Buffy speeches and the fact that we all knew it was going to be the end so everything was building to that moment. Joss Whedon came back on board for the finale and thankfully, it managed to bring back everything that made Buffy so great in the first place. Buffy has got the magical scythe she knows she needs for the upcoming end of the world thanks to Angel's help but must face off with the First's representative Caleb. Not to worry though, she manages to split the misogynistic fake-preacher in half, groin upwards. Then it's the final countdown to the big battle against the First and the army of Ubervamps via a complete overhaul of tradition that sees every Potential get their Slayer powers.

Chosen is littered with great moments that remind you why you love the series so much in the first place. Angel returns (involving some wicked jealousy moments from both him and Spike), there's a pre-battle game of Dungeons and Dragons, everyone returns to Sunnydale High for the big battle and, my favourite scene, the original Scoobies, Buffy, Xander, Willow and Giles, stand together and decide what to do tomorrow. It's an echo of the very first apocalypse they faced together way back in Season 1's Prophecy Girl and in both cases, Giles decides that the earth is very much doomed.

Thankfully that's not the case, but it's not without its casualties. One of the most famous tricks in Whedon's arsenal is to kill off characters without the least bit of notice, though it was sort of expected in this episode. Nevertheless, you could never be sure which character was going to make it and even Buffy herself was not safe (she has died twice already after all). Anya meets a sad, sudden end while it is left to Spike to make the ultimate sacrifice for Buffy (though he would later return to bother Angel as a ghost). It's a fitting end to the series, a great tribute to what has gone before and Sunnydale High gets destroyed. Again.

Quotage:

This episode has plenty of fantastic lines but there is no moment greater than Buffy's smile at the very end.

The Wish (Season 3, Episode 9)




This is one of my favourite episodes of Buffy and while it doesn't strictly feature an apocalypse as such, it does feature the end of Buffy's world as we know it. After Cordelia splits up with Xander after illicit Willow kissage, she meets new girl Anya, who is secretly Anyanka, a vengeance demon with the power of granting man-hating-themed wishes. Cordelia wishes us into Bizarro Sunnydale, a world in which Buffy never came to the town. Anyanka gives it the full makeover, creating a nightmarish version of the world we've grown to love; The Master has risen, Xander and Willow are vampires with weird tastes in leather, Angel has been captured and Sunnydale has turned to a dystopic wasteland with fewer humans every day.

This is a fascinating episode for many reasons. I always love an episode that takes characters out of their usual roles and mixes things up a bit and by focusing on Cordelia's dark and twisted consequence, we're offered a glimpse of what might have been. The cast clearly have a lot of fun playing their alternate roles and it's always great to see Mark Metcalf back as The Master. Seeing Buffy as a hard-bitten, scarred and emotionally cut-off young woman offers up a stark 'what might have been' comparison and despite the fact that we know everything will be back to normal somehow by the end, it's horrific to see what happens to the Scooby Gang. Especially as this is the episode where we learn that Nicholas Brendon is a great funny-man. But he really can't do dark and sexy.

Quotage:

Cordelia (on seeing Vamps Willow and Xander kissing): No way! I wish us into Bizarro Land and you guys are still together?!

The Gift (Season 5, Episode 22)



Season 5 is not really high on my 'Best Of' list (despite featuring The Body), but I can't deny that it has a truly excellent, harrowing and tear-filled finale driven by great performances from the cast. The series' 100th episode, The Gift sees Buffy finally face off against the god Glory who has Dawn in her grasp and is making her plans to open a portal to her home dimension, releasing all sorts of beasties into our world. Buffy has to contend with the possibility that she might have to kill Dawn, haunted throughout by the fact that she knows that 'death is her gift'.

Like any big finale, there's the tense build-up to the battle, playing on the human elements of the narrative with perhaps the most heart-breaking being Willow having to deal with Tara and her mental illness. Then there's the fight itself, an impressively-staged showdown on scaffolding as Buffy and Glory fight to get to Dawn. Backing all of it is a terrific score by ever-reliable Christophe Beck, a sorrowful melody that plays when Buffy finally realises why death is her gift and what she must do to stop this particular apocalypse.

James Marsters frequently gives good performances but this is one of his best, trying valiantly to save Dawn because he made a promise to a lady. The look in his eyes when he's thrown from the scaffolding or his face when he sees Buffy's dead body are some of the saddest moments in a whole episode full of them. If you ever find yourself in need of a good cry and an apocalypse and you've already watched Becoming Part 2 (the one where she kills Angel to stop Alfalfa - I mean Acathla), this is the episode to dig out. And remember, both before and after her death, Buffy saved the world a lot.

Quotage:

Spike: Well, not exactly the St Crispin's Day speech was it?
Giles: We few, we happy few...
Spike: We band of buggered.

Honourable Angel Mention: Not Fade Away (Angel Season 5, Episode 22)



Not Fade Away makes this otherwise-Buffy exclusive list precisely because it's a fantastic apocalypse-themed episode and perhaps one of the best in the Buffyverse. Angel's own series was a much darker being that its big sister show and the members of Angel Investigations faced their own helping of apocalypses over the show's five year run. Continually changing and evolving, Season 5 saw Angel take over the demonic law firm Wolfram & Hart, running it for the senior partners, a move which was a bit odd considering their previous history as nemeses. Sadly, the show was cancelled as it really got going again (the fifth season is one of the best) but Whedon decided to end it on his own terms, much like Angel does when it comes to taking on Wolfram & Hart and their representatives on this universe, the Circle of the Black Thorn.

It's an episode based entirely around the concept of sacrifice, much like Buffy's The Gift, with each character forced to confront that they might not only die in this battle, but lose everything they could possibly gain in the process, particularly Angel. It's a dark episode from start to finish and without the sense of hope that accompanied most Buffy finales. Whereas you usually knew that Buffy would be returning, or at least take the demons with her, Angel & Co. were taking on the biggest, baddest trio there has ever been. And the Wolf, the Ram and the Hart don't really like being slighted.

The main reason this is such a great episode is that there isn't really a massive battle in which everyone gets their heroic moment, but a character study of how each hero faces their impending doom. From the comedy of Spike reading out his poetry (a neat throwback to his flashback in Buffy's Fool For Love), Wesley mourning for the late Fred or Angel seeing his son Connor for potentially the last time, each has their own way of dealing before assassinating their own member of the Black Thorn. And then there's the end. Not everyone makes it to the rendezvous in the alley but then again, none of them expected to, but that's where your big battle is... after the credits; a bold, defiant cliffhanger that works both on the writers' level and at that of the narrative. Angel goes out on a high point, a perfect ending for a brilliant series.

Quotage:

(Last lines)
Spike: And in terms of a plan?
Angel: We fight.
Spike: Bit more specific?
Angel: Well, personally, I kinda wanna slay the dragon. Let's go to work.

So there you have it; six different ways to deal with an apocalypse Buffy style with a little bit of Angel thrown in. The whole Mayan thing really didn't stand a chance.

- Becky

Follow Becky on Twitter @beckygracelea
Or on her blog beckygracelea.wordpress.com

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