Watching Buffy: s03e22 “Graduation Day, part two”


Angel drinks from Buffy.

The decision is hers. She offers herself to him, and when he protests, she forces herself inside his defences to where he can no longer resist. She surrenders to him, and trusts that he will be able to stop before he kills her. She makes the choice, she spills the blood, she carries it. It’s her name in the title. Her show.

The bite is sex. Graphic. Intense. We see him penetrate her. She gasps. It’s been inevitable that this moment would come, since Angel came into frame in the very first episode. Her show opposite the vampire. The only question is how they managed to put it off so long. The blood sacrifice mirrors the end of season two, but the surrender mirrors the mid-point, when Buffy and Angel had sex. A direct line from there, the show’s definitive moment, to here. The culmination of their relationship. Buffy has given Angel everything, and trusted him with everything. There is nowhere else they can go. At the end of it all they will stand in the rain, and we will see on Buffy’s face every moment of her internal journey as she comes to understand that they are done. This is the end of Buffy and Angel, which is to say, the end of the show as it was.

It’s also the end of high school, of course. At the end of The Prom essay I suggested the show had been deceiving us. High school wasn’t hell, it had been heaven all along. I wasn’t just trolling there (though, yes, I was definitely trolling). I was also hinting at how, for most of us, high school gets reconfigured in our memories into a lovely glowing place of nostalgia, with all the crappy bits ironed out. And I was genuinely saying that “high school is hell” doesn’t really describe what happened in the show we’ve been watching for three seasons, where yes bad things happened, and the scale of that badness was enhanced with fangs and mantis women and evil zookeepers, but ultimately everything at the school seemed pretty… normal. In fact, most of the weirdness and badness happened outside of school. School was almost like a refuge from the badness. In this episode, it goes further – the Mayor transforms into a demon, and the young men and women of Sunnydale High transform into warriors. Their parents flee, leaving them to stand on their own two feet against the horrific face of the adult world. They go into battle – into war – and they go united. Some of them don’t make it through, some faces we have known fall to darkness, but they do not hesitate and together they are victorious. The class of ’99, triumphant.

The show was never about high school being hell because it was never about high school at all. It happened in hallways and lunchrooms and, very occasionally, in classrooms, but the show wasn’t interested in what being in high school meant. It only ever cared about how it felt to be young, staring out at the world and discovering it was unkind, and then having to figure out how to survive. High school was just another challenge, a set of indignities to be confronted, a structure that colluded against you. High school was a monster. And in this show, monsters are metaphors. High school wasn’t hell, life was hell, and the show was about how to survive: with love for our friends, and with an understanding that we will suffer.

Across these first three seasons I remember saying to people, “the world would be a better place if everyone watched Buffy.” I remember they would raise an eyebrow at me, or both eyebrows sometimes. It was just a provocative way of saying what I really meant: this weird little show seems to be about vampires, but really it’s about how you get hurt, but love gets you through. That seemed a good thing for people to hear.

There were some rough years in the 90s for my friends. Not so much for me, I made most every dodge roll along the way, but close friends were having horrible times, life-changing times, dealing with trauma and abuse and loss or forced into no-win choices or dead end paths and having to live with it, live through it. No mystery to this pattern, we were in our late teens, then our early twenties, when stuff gets real no matter who you are, same as it ever was. But I remember those times, picking our way through the cultural forest, and while there was plenty of music that seemed to get it, there was precious little else that seemed to know what it was like.

And then along came this show that made a promise and kept it: real threats; real emotions; real laughter. Buffy and Willow and Xander finding their own path through life, bonding over deeply nerdy jokes, and facing the hardest of hard times. Getting deeply hurt, over and over again. Each time, getting better. Reaching out to each other and getting better. None of our troubles could be stopped by putting on a cute outfit and shoving a stake through its heart, but the rest? Nerdy jokes, and love – those we could do. That was us at our best.

This show understood. It was listening too, and there we were, on the screen. At our best. Getting through.

Other notes:
* Oddly, right at the start Buffy leaves Faith’s knife on the rooftop, but later on she has it back and it becomes crucial in the endgame. It isn’t exactly a continuity error, but it’s a clumsy and unnecessary storytelling gap.
* Seth Green’s deadpan delivery almost swallows this gag completely: Willow: “He’s delirious. He thought I was Buffy.” Oz: “You too, huh?” I also liked his whip-quick timing when he suggested attacking the mayor with hummus.
* The Faith we have seen so far has been, by any reasonable standard, unforgiveable. The first thing Buffy does is forgive her.
* The Mayor continues to be much more an abstract representation of the adult world than any realistic part of it – hospital staff don’t recognize him and let him walk away after he attempts to kill Buffy, and his motivations seem to end at “turn into a big snake”. It doesn’t matter. His plan to do his whole speech before turning into a snake is another stupendously good joke in a series that has been full of them.
* Buffy calls the Mayor “Dick”. They worked very hard to get that word in there.
* Cordy is back in her strongest role, truthtelling, and it’s like she was never treated crappily by Xander. Also the resolution of the simmering tension between her and Wesley is hilarious and, to my knowledge, unique.
* Xander is also used effectively here as a strong supporter with some special military knowhow. He also recapitulates his strongest material from the last three seasons, being sceptical of Angel, and is given a moment at the end where he tells Buffy that Angel’s okay, and it feels like resolution there as well.
* Respect to Larry, from dumb jock bully to gay jock hero, who dies in action here – though we don’t see it, it was in the shooting script and is (eventually) confirmed onscreen. Harmony does get a moment where she is shown falling victim to a vampire; the show made sure not to miss that one out.
* That long hold where we see Buffy and Angel lock eyes for the last time… Sarah Michelle Gellar uses her uncanny ability to show us every note of Buffy’s thought process, telling us a whole story in her expression, while David Boreanaz… doesn’t do this. How is this guy going to carry a show by himself?


That’s it, for now. After three seasons of Watching Buffy, I’m tapped out. Will there be more? Maybe, one day, if I feel like I have more to say. For now, though – thanks to all my readers. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride.

Watching Buffy: s02e21 “Graduation Day, part one”


Berkeley Professor George Lakoff gained international attention early in the 2000s for his work on political framing, specifically his analysis of what was happening in the United States of America. He analysed the logic of conservative/republican and liberal/democratic politics, and argued that they built their appeal around two very different fundamental metaphors for the role of government. Liberal politics is structured around the idea of a nurturant parent as the ultimate moral authority – someone who listens to other’s troubles, and tries to protect the weak and help those who are in need. Conservative politics is built on the metaphor of a strict father – one who is the ultimate decision-maker for his family, who establishes a behavioural code and punishes transgressions, and who interprets the moral world for his family members, thus training them to be wise enough to stand on their own two feet. Lakoff has his detractors of course, everyone does, but nearly two decades on from the publication of Lakoff’s Moral Politics his ideas continue to resonate.

Buffy is no stranger to the importance of metaphor. The show was born soaking in the cultural conflict Lakoff described, broadcasting into a world where the news media were fracturing and these competing frames were being expressed ever more vividly. Buffy was however never a particularly political show, except in the way any show with a female perspective has to be political, and for that matter how every narrative expresses a particular construction of the world. Which is to say, everything is political. So.

In the pre-credits we see Faith go to work. She smiles her way into the office of an unsuspecting academic, and then she murders him, making jokes as she does so. This continues Faith’s progression into ever-more extreme violence. She started out enjoying killing dangerous demons and vampires a little too much, then she shrugged off the accidental murder of a human, then she murdered a demon who was not trying to harm her, then she was excited about torturing her nemesis Buffy, then she coldly assassinated a human involved in criminal activity, and now she happily engages in the pre-meditated murder of a total innocent.

Then, right after the credits, the episode takes us into Faith’s home, where she tries on the dress the Mayor has given her. She is insecure about her appearance in the dress, but the Mayor reassures her, giving us the clearest picture yet of the nature of their relationship: “Let me tell you something. Nobody knows what you are. Not even you, little Miss Seen-it-all. The Ascension isn’t just my day. It’s yours too. Your day to blossom, to show the world what a powerful girl you are. I think of what you’ve done, what I know you will do… No father could be prouder.”

Faith visibly brightens. We next glimpse her on a rooftop, having shot Angel with a poisoned arrow, an affliction that can only be lifted by letting him drink he blood of a slayer. Then we see her reporting back to the Mayor. She calls him “boss” and begs for another job killing or maiming someone. The Mayor cheerfully calls her a “firecracker”, and we get something unprecedented from Faith – personal disclosure. “My mom used to call me that when I was little. I was always running around.” After another exchange where the Mayor confirms he will need Faith’s help “always”, she offers more: “When I was a kid, a couple of miles outside of Boston there was this quarry. And all the kids used to swim there and jump off the rocks. And there was this one rock like forty feet up. I was the only one that would jump off it. All the older kids were too scared.”

In terms of revealing backstory, these lines don’t give us much: Faith was active and fearless as a child? Hold the front page! What is revealing here is how these moments feel in the context of this conversation and of their relationship. There’s nothing in the interaction that pushes Faith to talk about herself, and the Mayor isn’t trying to find out more or even saying his own personal things to encourage her to match him. She just offers it up. This seems to represent the entire tone of their relationship – the Mayor doesn’t want anything from her in an emotional sense. He makes no demands that she share, or feel, a certain way. He does put a lot of pressure on her, but it is entirely behavioural – she should dress nicely, use polite language, and be mindful always of his status. He polices her behaviour down to the detail, and lets the emotions take care of themselves. And it works – she comes to him wanting to share herself with him, to position him as someone who understands her as a parent understands a child.

Compare this to Faith’s experiences with Buffy and the others. They always wanted her to feel things – friendship, remorse, responsibility. The Mayor starts with behaviour, and expects feelings to settle in place when she does the things he asks of her. The Scoobies start with feelings, and expect behaviour to resolve itself when those problems are fixed. Over and over again, the Scoobies acted as if Faith’s behavioural problems would fall away if she could just get her emotions lined up right. This never worked for Faith. She pushed Buffy and the others away, and when they persisted, she began to resent them.

For me, this is the episode when Faith finally snaps into focus as a character. It reveals the fundamental concern at the core of Faith, the one that has driven her every action from her first appearance, and which has seen her turn her back on the people who tried to look out for her and throw in with a monster who seeks to wreck the world. That core concern is fear. Faith is afraid. We saw her experiencing fear vividly once, when the vampire who killed her watcher came after her as well, but she seemed to overcome that fear. This one is deeper still, and it is the fear that she is an awful and hateful person that deserves no love. Every interaction with the Scoobies was a threat: if she let them in, if she played their games, then she would risk revealing – discovering, even – her own awfulness. She went to the Mayor in search of someone who would not judge her for her troubled inner life, who would see it not as a failure but who would welcome her worst impulses. She expected she would feel safe with him, and she did – but she received so much more than that. She probably anticipated the kind of business relationship the Mayor had with Mr Trick, someone who said “it doesn’t matter if you are awful, because I can make use of that.” Instead she found someone who accepted her, celebrated her, and even offered her love. A man who wiped away any uncertainty by giving her a clear structure in which to thrive. There is a sharp contrast to the similar interactions she had with Wesley the watcher – there, she never felt safe. Here, because she felt safe first of all, she was free to appreciate the parental form of his relationship to her, the security that comes with an abdication of responsibility.

Meanwhile, Buffy was acting the general. Giles was a calm emotional centre, providing wisdom and counsel, but trusting completely to Buffy’s emotional and strategic leadership. Buffy calmly instructed her mother to leave town, and her mother did as she was told. Buffy’s friends gathered around her and pledged to follow her into battle. And when the Watcher’s Council attempted to assume control of her, she simply refused. This confidence is expressive of someone completely at home with her identity, aware of her weaknesses but also of her greater strength, able above all to trust herself. Buffy’s self-fulfillment, her graduation, is set against Faith’s failure to achieve the same. Faith’s self-loathing means she could never do what Buffy did here.

That means Buffy’s continued existence is a reminder for Faith that she might be awful after all, and it’s why Buffy and Faith’s battle at the end of the episode is so charged. The two characters talk, but there’s nothing meaty or thematic in what they say to each other – Faith challenging Buffy to cut loose is as dramatic as it gets. The fight is nonetheless hugely powerful. It shows two worldviews pitted against each other – one, where power arises from empathy and trust in others, and the other, where power arises from the avoidance of self-knowledge and the rituals of approval and reward.

It is no surprise, given the overwhelmingly liberal politics of those who make Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that the metaphorical ethos of the nurturant parent defeats the metaphorical ethos of the strict father. It is no surprise as well that this emerges as the fundamental thematic conflict at work in this storyline. This isn’t really about politics, but about something deeper than that, the underlying structures from which Lakoff’s frames draw their strength. This story is about the right way to exist as a moral being. More than that, it’s about the fundamental nature of being human – what really makes us happy, and gives us dignity, and furthers the well-being of all. Isn’t every story, in the end?

The answer is love, of course, just like every other time on this show. The story of Buffy has been about turning to your friends when you are hurt and vulnerable, and accepting their love for you as a healing force; and it’s about giving that love to your friends just the same. It’s a lesson Buffy has struggled with for three seasons, and will continue to struggle with for four more, but it’s the truest heart of the show. It’s why Buffy defeats Faith, but it’s also exactly why she loses so thoroughly in doing so – Buffy’s fundamental sense of love gives her pause, and in that moment Faith takes away her chance to use her to save Angel.

But it isn’t just Faith that takes this option away. It’s the show itself, intervening again, contriving the circumstances for Buffy to be tested once again. The question posed by the cliffhanger is not, how great s Buffy’s love great enough to sacrifice herself to save Angel? Every moment we’ve seen in this show has answered that question, a thousand times over.

The question is, what will be the cost?

Other notes:
* A great hidden joke as the Mayor talks to Snyder: “Anybody who doesn’t feel like coming to graduation, well, they’ll just have to live without a diploma.”
* The Mayor sauntering into the library is a beautiful moment. Here, at last, we have a villain worth reckoning with, and stakes that feel intense and personal.
* Angel gets full-on damselled. Last chance before he gets his own show and becomes a protagonist!
* Xander & Cordy are hanging out happily, no snark between them. It’s a genuine relief. Cordelia doesn’t even eyeroll at Xander’s unfathomably awful pullover.
* Xander starts the episode with half-serious joking about how he’s going to die so close to the end – when Whedon’s reputation as a character-killer solidifies in a few years, this kind of talk will make the audience very, very antsy.
* Xander also gets a nice low-key heroic moment, a sign they’re finally working out what to do with him – he’s obviously tempted by Anya’s offer of getting out of town, but instead he stays to help his friends. (Again, after Whedon’s rep solidifies, this kind of moment will make the audience prepare for disaster.)
* As with the last episode, Anya is fully herself and she continues to be fascinating. Her bluntness with Xander form a curious contrast with Cordelia – she makes the same kind of moves as Cordy, voicing thoughts that others would be too sensitive to say, but they play out completely differently. I think it’s because Cordelia was always concerned with status, whereas that couldn’t be furthest from Anya’s mind. The lack of status-threat also means Xander isn’t put on the defensive (helped, of course, by the character growth we have witnessed). It seems like a dynamic that has potential to be sparky and interesting, and also not be completely toxic.
* Oz & Willow do the sex.

Watching Buffy: s03e20 “The Prom”


High school is hell. This is the concept Buffy has run with right from the first episode, when new kid Buffy opted out of popularity to hide with the weird kids in the library. From there she and her friends would take on all the pains of late adolescence, as filtered into monstrous metaphorical form.

Over this last run of episodes, as graduation day approaches, the show has remembered it’s set in high school. Earshot coloured in Sunnydale High, and Choices began the process of resolving outstanding questions. This episode carries on from both of these, solidifying the show’s high school context and locking down more conclusions to get ready for the end.

The heart of this episode is the prom, perhaps the one moment in high school where even in the real world people are beguiled by mythic metaphor. For Buffy, it is a last chance to party before the coming apocalypse, a precious opportunity for her friends that she will protect at all costs. Her own belief in the magic of prom and its promise of “one perfect high school moment” is, unfortunately, broken early in this episode when Angel unilaterally ends their relationship.

Marti Noxon carries a bad reputation in the received wisdom of Buffy fandom, accused of overloading the show with melodrama. Whether or not she earns that rep later on, the breakup scene between Buffy and Angel is breathtaking. It runs long, a two-hander that takes its time and gives Sarah Michelle Gellar plenty of space to walk the audience through every beat of Buffy’s internal journey. It is painful and very believable. It’s clear Angel’s already made up his mind, and Buffy’s anger at this is palpable – “Who are you to tell me what’s right for me? You think I haven’t thought about this?” But there’s no way to say Angel is wrong. It’s an utterly believable split, the same fracture in their relationship that almost led Angel to kill himself in Amends but played out in a different way. And it’s so downbeat, so simple. There isn’t even a precipitating incident, except perhaps for the Mayor and Joyce who separately deliver the same message that Angel is clearly already thinking. The relationship comes to pieces quietly, because Angel thought about it long enough to lose his faith in its future. It’s not the way we’d expect a TV show to break up its central romance, it’s too quiet, too sensible. The contrast with the usual mode of TV storytelling gives it extra impact. It feels solid. It feels irreversible. It feels real. That’s why Buffy’s line at the end of the scene strikes so deep: “Is this really happening?”

By way of answer, the show dissolves to a shot of the moon. Dissolves aren’t really part of the show’s visual language, and neither is a wide establishing shot; the show keeps its edits tight and clean and holds its eye on the world immediate to the Scoobies. With this edit, which leads into shots of Buffy and then Angel alone, the show tells us that the split is real. Buffy’s life just changed forever.

We’re still in this moment as we land on Buffy trying to make sense of it by spilling her guts to newly-confirmed BFF Willow. And she says out loud what the show has already told us: “But he’s right. I mean, I think, maybe in the long run, that he’s right.” And then she breaks down into sobs, and it’s powerful to see her so undone, because she is so strong and capable now, so indomitable in the full bloom of her slayer authority. The show keeps its promise: real emotions when bad things happen.

Buffy pulls out of her funk only when it becomes clear the prom is under threat: “I’m going to give you all a nice, fun, normal evening if I have to kill every single person on the face of the earth to do it.” It’s another moment of closure, the ultimate expression of Buffy’s relationship to the school and to her friends – as the Chosen One she has slowly come to recognize she needs her friends, but she is also ready to sacrifice herself for them and be their champion. We also get a further demonstration of the team in action, with Buffy as the effective general, again showing us the outcome of three seasons of team development. We even get Willow throwing down some hacking prowess, a callback to the very beginning of the Scooby Gang working together. But there’s one further note of conclusion here: as Buffy takes responsibility for her friends’ happiness, her friends step back and allow her to do this. It’s a group dynamic that is settled and mature, and it is satisfying to see.

More closure, this episode finally puts an end to Xander’s troubling and obsessive behaviour towards Cordelia. For some time now he has been cruelly attacking her, an unpleasant habit that arose from his own insecurities after betraying her. In this episode he finds that things are going poorly for her, and it shocks him out of this pattern, reminding him that she is a human being. In a rare generous gesture, he pays for her prom dress, and they have a genuine moment of mutual respect and despite-everything affection at the prom. For too long Xander’s behaviour towards Cordy has echoed uncomfortably with the dark core of male entitlement shown in The Pack, but his generosity here – not just buying the dress, but covering up her fall from grace, giving her a simple, friendly compliment, giving her the last word, and not imposing on her evening at all – speak of a Xander who is not in thrall to those weaknesses. It comes far too late to make Xander any kind of shiny exemplar, but it is a healthy and welcome change.

The episode also provides a contrast to Xander’s escape from toxic masculinity, by presenting an episode villain who is completely engulfed in the same. The prom is threatened by a school student named Tucker, whose entire motivation for mass murder is getting turned down by the girl he asked to go with him. The show displays its contempt for this with a flashback that is merciless in its brevity, but the premise stings in the present moment, after several mass murders in schools motivated by exactly and precisely this kind of petty self-loathing. The show has unwittingly struck on the perfect expression of its thematic interest in the female perspective by allowing Buffy to close out her high-school years with an unequivocal victory over a pitiful red pill/MRA ideologue.

The climax of the episode, however, isn’t anything to do with the monsters. It comes in an unexpected addition to the prizegiving ceremony, where Jonathan – just saved from suicide by Buffy one episode ago – gives Buffy an award on behalf of all the students: “We’re not good friends. Most of us never found the time to get to know you, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t noticed you…. Most of the people here have been saved by you, or helped by you at one time or another… So the senior class, offers its thanks.”

And the students of Sunnydale High all turn to celebrate Buffy, and the moment echoes back through every episode we’ve seen, every moment in this school, when Buffy’s courage and sacrifice was seen, and was remembered. The senior class become one with the audience, and we know Buffy deserves her perfect high school moment, complete with Angel to take her in his arms and dance.

Buffy wins. She defeats high school by discovering its true face – a community of people who see the good in others and, stumbling and hesitant, show them love as best they can. A community facing real threat, but blessed with real emotion, enough that they can see the guarding angel who’s been among them from the start.

The show always claimed that high school was hell. Turns out it was heaven all along.

Other notes:
* We finally discover where Angel gets his blood, underlining yet again how little the show cares about procedural questions like “where does Angel get his blood”.
* Joyce coming to see Angel plays as a really nice, gentle moment. Buffy would no doubt be furious at Joyce interfering in her life, but the show is basically on Joyce’s side here.
* The Giles-Buffy relationship is beautifully played here as well. His deep fatherly concern and his profound respect for her both resonate in the moments when he learns of her breakup with Angel and congratulates her at the prom.
* For all the unpleasant overtones that now attach to Tucker’s revenge scheme, it is genuinely hilarious how he trained the beasts to attack formal attire by forcing them to binge-watch Carrie, Pretty in Pink, and the Prom Night franchise.
* Anya returns in this episode, and while she is kind of irrelevant to the action she makes an immediate impression. This is an almost entirely new take on the character compared to her previous outings, displaying an arresting mixture of blunt speech, social naivete, and a helpless awareness of stormy emotions. She is utterly irresistible.
* The show has trained us to expect dream sequences now, so when we see Buffy and Angel getting married we know what’s going on. But the show has a swerve – it’s actually Angel’s dream this time. In retrospect it’s obvious, because it’s way out of character for Buffy to dream about getting married.

Watching Buffy: s03e19 “Choices”


Buffy will always be remembered as a high school show. “High school really is hell” is the catchy high concept that sums up what this show was about. Buffy, Xander and Willow hanging out in the school library, making plans to fight vampires with Giles? That’s the show, always and forever. (Example: just this week Buffy made it as far as the semi-finals in’s “best high school show of all time” bracket.)

This memory is wrong, of course. Buffy was at high school for little more than a third of the series run, and it had mostly stopped caring about the school by the halfway point of those episodes. When last week’s episode suddenly devoted screen time to the school, it came as a shock, a surprise reminder that yes, these characters were in fact high school students. (Vulture published an explainer for Buffy’s failure to progress to the final, acknowledging that the show is about much more than just high school.)

The high school label will stick around regardless. In high school Buffy became something exceptional in season two, and delivered ambition and quality in season three. With this episode, the end of high school comes looming into view. It isn’t entirely clear how the next season will work. Buffy isn’t much of a high school show, but it still uses that setting to keep its narrative together. What’s going to happen next? How big a transformation will this be?

The show is heading for a format change that will have a bigger impact that anything else in the its history. While the change will not be as momentous as other shows that take their high school setting seriously and then have to transition to a wholly new set of concerns upon graduation, it will still adjust the context and relationships of every character and change the context of every threat. More importantly, it will pull the rug out from under that high concept: high school might have been hell, but the characters are almost out of high school.

Effecting change on this scale takes a bit of time and care to do properly, and that’s why the end of Buffy starts here. The closing quartet of episodes that are all concerned with resolving the many ongoing threads that have animated the show through this season, and in fact through its whole existence. There is a lot to get through, and four episodes will prove barely enough.

Before closing things off, though, the show finally puts its major antagonist in the picture. Last season Angelus arrived too soon and the show struggled to delay the inevitable confrontation, but this time the show has held the Mayor back and he and Faith are peaking at just the right time.

The relationship between Faith and the Mayor is depicted clearly in a vivid fragment where the Mayor gives Faith a gift-wrapped present. Faith’s attitude and sass disappear as soon as the Mayor chides her, showing Faith is desperate for the kind of father-figure approval the Mayor can provide. He gives her the performance of love and security while at the same time encouraging her most anti-social tendencies – an unlikely combination that Faith has not, of course, been able to find anywhere else. Faith’s relationship with the Mayor is an interesting contrast with the approaches of Giles (I will treat you as an adult, don’t disappoint me) and Wesley (I will treat you as an errant child, but I have no claim to authority), and even with her erstwhile mentor Buffy (I will be your friend but we have to be honest with each other).

Faith’s character is certainly thriving in the Mayor’s care, for a certain definition of thriving. She murders another human in this episode, assassinating him from behind and from a distance in the absence of provocation. This behaviour is deeply disturbing – even the vampire sent to help her is creeped out by her eagerness to mutilate the body in order to free her prize. As ever in this season, it is hard to see how this storyline can end – Buffy is firmly against killing, but it doesn’t seem like Faith can be stopped without killing her, and her brutal cruelty doesn’t leave much room for redemption.

The Mayor, meanwhile, finally gets some context as he explains that he did have a family, a wife who died of old age while his immortality kept him alive. It doesn’t really make him any easier to understand as a villain, but it provides some depth and complexity that has been absent in the character before now. Delightfully, he uses his experience as a reason to tell Angel and Buffy that their relationship is similarly doomed, and his message strikes home in just the same way Spike’s warnings of doom resonated earlier in the season.

The episode does turn its attention to resolution, starting with a look at the competence of the Scooby Gang. A lot of genre entertainment generates pleasure from “competence porn”, the joy of watching skillful people do hard jobs with aplomb. This show has never done this. For all of season one, much of season two and even into this season the group have often been presented as defiantly, gleefully amateurish in their approach to fighting bad guys and saving the world. In this episode, however, they are operating with a smooth operational confidence. The episode takes on the structure of a heist movie, complete with a Mission Impossible “dangling from cables to uplift the treasure” sequence. Every member of the team has a role to play and does the job with care, deferring always to Buffy’s leadership. It doesn’t quite go according to plan, of course, but that’s perfectly in keeping with our expectations of a heist narrative – and more importantly, none of the problems are seen to arise from character flaws or poor decisions on the part of our heroes. Indeed, the only reason it doesn’t come off is because of Faith, whose position as a counterpart to Buffy allows her to be disruptive to the best-laid plans.

Until this reveal, however, it is very enjoyable to watch the team work so well together. We’ve seen them stumble and fail and mess up over and over again, and seeing them do the job so well is a pleasurable culmination of three seasons of growth and improvement. The show was never concerned with high school as a place for education, but the skillful spycraft on display here is a solid proxy for it. What we are given in this episode is a bunch of characters who have mastered their craft and are ready to graduate.

After we learn about Willow’s capture, the focus of the episode shifts rapidly. As the group negotiate a hostage exchange with the Mayor, the episode makes a significant swerve by giving Willow some meaty hero beats. Although her image has always been shy, gentle, squeamish, anxious, and caring, Willow has been capable of steel right from go – her big moment in The Pack was an early highlight. But nothing before now has prepared us for the resourceful courage Willow displays here, luring a vampire in to attack her so she can use her magic to stake it with a pencil, then forgoing a chance to escape in order to uncover more about the Mayor’s plans, and then upon being discovered by Faith she shows even her deep empathy has limits as she delivers some home truths to the current vampire slayer: “You’re just a big selfish, worthless waste.” While her decision to sit and read in a corner for an hour wasn’t terribly wise, it does mean she can deliver some crucial information about the Mayor’s plan.

This is all about dealing with the first bump in the road for the show: keeping the cast together. Buffy wants to go to a university far away, but her obligation to the Hellmouth will keep her in place. Her friends, however, have no such obligations. In fact, the show has embraced the fact that Willow should have opportunities to go almost anywhere in the world. Her hero turn in this episode serves as justification for her choice to stay. She is badass enough to pull her own weight, and she has clearly bought into the mission: “And I just realized that that’s what I want to do. Fight evil, help people. I mean, I think it’s worth doing. And I don’t think you do it because you have to. It’s a good fight, Buffy, and I want in.”

Buffy’s response: “I kind of love you.” And their relationship does appear to go up another level in this episode, as Willow’s and Buffy’s friendship becomes very strong and very special. If there is true love in this show, it exists between Willow and Buffy, and how right that this story with its devotion to a female point of view should so resoundingly celebrate strong female friendship.

Sadly, this comes at the expense of Oz. He is not entirely absent, of course. He gets a cracker of a scene in the middle, cutting short the gang’s discussion of the train problem by smashing the magical preparation he’d put together earlier. Seth Green, as usual, delivers beautifully, but after that he is thoroughly sidelined, and ignored entirely when Willow is recovered to allow the show to focus on the relationship Willow has with Buffy. This is, unfortunately, symptomatic of the way Oz has been treated throughout the season – he does everything so well, but is given frustratingly little to do. After this episode it is easy to imagine Seth Green looking again at his contracts and thinking very carefully about whether he wants to return for season four.

Other notes:
* The episode puts some attention on Xander. Even in the episodes where he is well-handled, his obsessive negativity towards Cordelia weighs him down. This is a burden the show needs to shift, and we get some groundwork for this in this episode. Notably, Xander is clearly portrayed as being out of line here – Willow tells him off for his attitude towards Cordelia (perhaps too gently, but still), and later we see him visibly give into the temptation to be an abusive ass towards her. It is a positive for the show to be portraying Xander’s poor behaviour as actively unpleasant, as opposed to an amusing comedy moment. This episode doesn’t actually resolve any of this, instead laying the groundwork for next time.
* Xander reading On the Road – well, that book won’t make him any more of a feminist, but a road trip actually sounds like a really good idea for the character.
* Not everything in the ep goes smoothly. It has to really work hard to contrive a circumstance where the monsters get out of the box – Snyder bursting in on what he suspects is a drug deal with a security guard who will act like an idiot. This is bizarrely out of sync with three seasons of genre expectation, full of late-night activity in the school with no security guards to be seen. It’s also out of step with Snyder’s own awareness of the supernatural and his position as a more complicated foil than he first appeared to be. Finally this forces a set-up in the first act where we have a sequence of Snyder shaking down two random students, completely disconnected from everything around it. Elegant plotting this is not, a shame in an episode that otherwise works so well.
* No better sign of just how little Buffy cares about believable world-building than seeing the Mayor operates his sinister schemes right out of the front door of city hall.
* Faith is aided by a vampire in a deeply unfashionable shirt. Nice to see this motif again.

Watching Buffy: s03e18 “Earshot”


Across three seasons, this show has honed a skillful technique of using supernatural elements to expose and explore widely-shared teenage concerns. Strangely, while this episode offers up a supernatural feature that is extremely well-suited to Buffy‘s method of monstrous metaphor, it then ignores the most obvious and potent aspect of teenage experience so exposed.

In the commentary, Espenson says the episode began with the idea of a student using magic to cheat on a test, and grew from there into a “be careful what you wish for” story – Buffy wishes she knew what Angel thought about Faith, and when she gains the power to find out, it almost kills her. You can see how this idea expanded into its final form, but the episode also shows an uncharacteristic insensitivity to the inner lives and priorities of teenagers. With all the shenanigans around mind-reading that fill the second act, we get only glimpses of what would surely be its most potent aspect, the fundamental anxiety among teenagers (and people in general): “What do they really think of me?”

Perhaps this is because of the nature of Buffy herself. She is a strong, independent figure who has happily defied convention throughout her story. If any character really didn’t give a toss about what other people thought of them, surely it would be Buffy? This superficially seems right, but I think the show itself has discouraged this kind of view of Buffy’s character. Although her courage and independence have been mainstays, the show has also been at pains to show her as flawed and human, hauling the same raft of emotional baggage as her fellow teens, and the desire for approval from those around her is absolutely in keeping with this. Indeed the very first mindreading Buffy experiences after discovering her power has her reacting with surprise and delight that a boy in the hall finds her attractive. It is hard to accept Buffy’s lack of interest then in her status in the eyes of others.

(To underline the point – there is of course a character in the show who has could convincingly be a telepath with no interest in the opinions others have of him. The show has spent a long time establishing Oz’s imperturbability, and the comparison between his characterization and Buffy’s is stark.)

Although the episode continues to give Buffy no curiosity about how she is seen by others, it keeps pointing in that direction. Buffy’s first thought of what to do with the power is to stand out in class with (telepathically stolen) insights into Othello. It’s a weird scene, straddling a logic gap – Buffy uses the power to impress people, but doesn’t use it to see if other people are actually impressed.

The teacher, continuing to discuss Othello, addresses the gap directly: “We all have our little internal Iagos, that tell us our husbands or our girlfriends or whatever, don’t really love us. But you never really see what’s in someone’s heart.” This leads directly to Buffy approaching Angel and attempting to use the power on him. However, once again, Buffy doesn’t try to discover what he thinks of her, only what he thinks about Faith.

Continuing the theme, when the Scooby gang gather again in the library to discuss Buffy’s power, her telepathy reveals mostly what the others think about themselves and each other, rather than what they think about Buffy. This is not really a moment where we’d expect Buffy to be fishing for their thoughts of her, but still the absence of these thoughts shows the episode is simply disinterested in this question.

Shortly after, Buffy is overwhelmed by the telepathy, and the power disappears for the remainder of the episode. Throughout, Buffy has been uninterested in what others think of her, and no-one else seems to be thinking of her anyway judging by the sampling of thoughts we hear. There’s some merit in this – although I maintain Buffy’s lack of curiosity is strange, it is not at all surprising that we don’t hear much from others. The eventual cure for teenage anxiety about how other people think of you is the slow-dawning discovery that mostly, they don’t. Other people aren’t thinking about you, they’re thinking about themselves.

Indeed, it is healthy for the show to finally gesture towards putting some context around the Scooby gang. Sunnydale High has always been extremely poorly drawn, clearly a prop for stories about the Scoobies than anything that had a real existence in its own right; filling it with students who are seen to be thinking about themselves redresses this balance. (Whether this is too little, too late, or just in time for the finale of Buffy’s school years, is down to the subjective taste of the viewer.)

The episode’s “whodunnit” structure, initiated when Buffy overhears the thoughts of someone intending to kill everyone, means the episode needs a raft of suspects. Espenson is forced to offer a whole roster of Sunnydale bit players to fill out the edges, including returning character Percy the jock, and a key role for perpetual featured extra Jonathan. There are some delightful touches here, including the revelation that Sunnydale High has a school newspaper, leading to perhaps my all-time favourite Oz quip, delivered in typically deadpan style by Seth Green:
Willow: The school paper is edging on depressing lately. You guys notice that?
Oz: I don’t know. I always go straight to the obits.

As it happens, that missing feature of Buffy’s telepathic experience – “What do they really think of me? They don’t.” – turns out to be the crux of the episode’s resolution. Buffy confronts Jonathan, who is in the school clock tower with a gun, and delivers exactly this truth as a way of talking him down: “Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they’re too busy with their own.” It seems clear to me that the episode would have been improved by setting this up more clearly and portraying Buffy more honestly, having her try and use her power to see what other people think of her, and then discovering they mostly aren’t doing so at all. The omission is not disastrous, but it does make the story feel slightly off, like it’s failed to grasp something essential about the emotions of its characters. Mostly, I think this is important because it points out just how rarely this show gets the emotional stuff wrong. This weird little show about a teenage monster hunter and her geeky friends has become so consistently good at nailing character emotions and motivations that even this small oddity stands out.

And one of the reasons that matters is because of the infamy attached to this episode. It was held back from broadcast due to its depiction of a potential school shooting just a week after Columbine. Add to this an attempted suicide, and you have some weighty material for the monster-hunting show. Yet three seasons of intense emotional clarity have earned Buffy the right to tell this story, and never once in this episode do these intense aspects feel gratuitous or mishandled. This is difficult material, addressed with great skill while still being gloriously fun and funny. Pop culture can ask for no more than this.

Other notes:
* I like the show having Buffy try to use her power to read Angel’s thoughts. It’s at the very least rude, and conceivably an awful intrusion – not Buffy’s proudest moment, for sure. But very human, and a nice and believable flaw for our protagonist.
* Perhaps thankfully, the show doesn’t dwell on the rape culture aspects it usually approaches through metaphor – Buffy’s initial mind-reading experiences clearly trouble her for this reason, and she later comments “…the boys at this school are seriously disturbed.”. That’s enough to demonstrate awareness of the issue, but also to allow the show to look at other things.
* Cordelia is, without explanation, back in the Scooby Gang, helping out with the investigation. The show still doesn’t really know what to do with Cordelia – she’ll be out of the group again next week – but I think including her in the scene actually shows the character some respect. It is a relief to see her there, even if it might be inferred her motivation is not “help because it’s important and I’m a good person and to hell with Xander” but rather “help as a way of getting close to Wesley”.
* That said, the gag that Cordy’s thoughts are identical with her dialogue is too funny to get grumpy about.
* Xander, meanwhile, is being misused again. His panicked thoughts about sex and naked women are entirely to be expected, but using the investigation as an excuse for flirting with women is the kind of cheap gag that the show really needs to let go of if they want to keep him around. Likewise, his hero moment at the end, running around throwing jello to the ground, is dialed too far into pathetic physical comedy when it would be amusing enough (and less damaging) played straight.
* The character story of the episode, however, is of course Jonathan. After three long seasons as a running gag, he suddenly gets a meaty dramatic scene and becomes an important part of the overall Buffy tapestry. Funnily enough, he doesn’t even appear until minute 22 – that’s pretty late when you’re setting up a mystery!
* “On the front of a police car? Twice?”

Watching Buffy: s03e17 “Enemies”

Image: Turning evil is the best hair straightener.

The Mayor
The Mayor remains, seventeen episodes into season three, an awkward fit as a Buffy villain. He is now a well-defined onscreen presence – his screen time in this episode is almost as much as all previous appearances added together, and we get plenty of his ’50s-TV-dad charm as he develops this or that supernatural threat. And yet for all that we are clear now on how the Mayor behaves, he remains essentially a cipher.

He is, of course, the Mayor of Sunnydale. We are given some backstory here, suggesting that the Mayor is very old and in fact founded Sunnydale on the Hellmouth in order to set up the plan he is currently unfolding. That does give him some civic weight, but apart from that historical association, his status as Mayor is utterly irrelevant to the story. He seems to spend all his time plotting his supernatural ascension; if he has responsibilities as Mayor, then they are handled entirely off-screen and never mentioned. In fact his presentation resembles nothing so much as the Master in season one. This is unfortunate; while the Master was trapped underground with just a few acolytes to bounce off, the Mayor is holding the office of Mayor and has all of Sunnydale’s infrastructure and society at his beck and call. From what we see onscreen, you wouldn’t know it.

In his insightful essay “What stories want“, Alasdair looks hard at my regular references to the “logic of Buffy‘s story world”, and argues that the structure I’m referring to is “myth as metaphor”. He pulls some fascinating observations out of this analysis, such as identifying Buffy as supernatural law enforcement.

I think, with his essay in mind, that this shows why the Mayor’s presentation is so thin. If Buffy’s world is a metaphorical infrastructure where she is the law enforcement, the Watcher’s Council is the government, and the school is the community at risk, then the Mayor of Sunnydale is simply redundant. The Watcher’s Council in Helpless metaphorically communicated rule and misrule in a way directly relevant to Buffy’s life and milieu; what space is left for the Mayor? What is he going to do to affect Buffy – change the parking laws and raise taxes? All he can do is move right back into the supernatural space, where his civic/metaphorical role loses all its meaning. The Mayor-as-villain was an attractive construction because it reaches out beyond the limitations of the show’s usual setting at the same time as the characters prepare to graduate from it, but it turns out there isn’t anything much out there of interest just now.

The Mayor spends a lot of time in this episode with Faith. He has very quickly formed a fatherly affection for her, which Faith clearly finds strange. It is suggested that this aspect of their relationship is part of the appeal for Faith – she is obviously looking for an accepting parental substitute to give her respect and love, and the Mayor for better or worse fits the bill.

It is an odd relationship, and the show doesn’t put much effort into making it feel authentic. Richard Williams in a G+ comment points out the strangeness of Faith’s sudden decision to ally with the Mayor: “It’s a huge jump to go from ‘I don’t like my side and they’re after me so I’m going to get away from them’ to ‘I don’t like my side and so I’m going to switch and actively start working for the incredibly evil enemy and try to kill them’.”

He’s right, of course. There are two other aspects of the situation that provide useful context, however. First, although Faith is around all season, she is almost always presented only in a shallow way. Apart from the business with the fake watcher, she has not really been tested or exposed, and neither the Scoobies nor the audience really get to know her. This means that we can argue that Faith’s heel turn is in fact a simple revelation of her true character all through the season, and if we thought otherwise, that was simply because we were filling in gaps to make her seem nice than she was.

The idea that we are finally seeing the true Faith is bolstered by the other aspect. In this episode, Faith sets about torturing Buffy. Her ostensible friend, her fellow Slayer, an innocent young woman – Faith eagerly announces her desire to inflict on her to the agonies of torture. This is an awful moment. The Faith we had assumed we were dealing with – troubled, but ultimately good – is clearly not the Faith we actually have.

And if that is so, then retroactively Faith’s alliance with the Mayor makes more sense. She was on her way out of a place that didn’t seem fun any more, and then Trick ended up dead and there was a job opening at the Mayor’s side, so she impulsively changed plans. It isn’t the greatest storytelling, but I think it does hold together and it does assemble from the facts of the case.

Their continued relationship makes more sense. It is easy to see how someone mistreated and guarded like Faith might rapidly build loyalty to a strong, kind, lovely father figure who makes her feel appreciated – particularly if he also indulges and normalizes her most suspect impulses. The idea of a father sending his daughter to seduce an enemy is almost gleefully perverse.

The Angelus Gambit
Faith tries to fool Angel and get him into bed. It doesn’t work, except to set up a much more elaborate con job played right back on her. Angel apparently loses his soul and becomes, once again, Angelus. As he acts out his brutal alter ego he gathers information about Faith, the Mayor, and the big plan of the bad guys. The episode keeps this reveal up its sleeve, swerving the viewer and Faith alike in the final act. While there was never enough information available for viewers to work out how the switch-up worked (it turned out a small character helping the Mayor owed Giles a favour and told him about the plan), the show did drop a few clues, such as Angel’s eagerness to torture and kill Buffy – season two made very clear that Angelus prefers to ruin people by harming those they care about, instead of coming right at them.

However, perhaps the biggest clue that all was not as it seems was simply that more Angelus seems like too much, too soon. This show has been enthusiastically driving itself into new spaces and pushing innovative new character challenges, and dragging Angelus out of the closet feels immediately like a step backward. This, more than anything else, makes it satisfying rather than frustrating when Buffy and Angel reveal to Faith that they’ve played her.

This episode is credited to Doug Petrie, who also wrote perhaps the best take on Xander in a long time in Revelations, which also turned on the scary prospect of Angelus. True to form, Xander gets some good stuff to do here. While most other writers shrug and just make Xander the butt of jokes, Petrie gives him a few solid beats that show how he belongs in the team. He goes on an information-gathering mission to Willy the snitch, and he’s successful (although, he confesses, he bribed Willy to cough up what he knew). And as in Revelations, says out loud what others are thinking, noting the chilly tension between Faith and Buffy.

In fact, through the whole episode, he is never made the butt of the joke – Petrie comes close with a bit about Xander asking if some secret books might have dirty pictures, but it’s clear Xander’s making the joke himself and at his own expense.

He is also much less objectionable in his treatment of Cordelia – while he is still (unjustifiably and obsessively) on the offensive whenever she’s in range, he only comments on her actions, not her looks or intelligence or choice of clothes or anything else. (And her actions are pretty mockworthy.) When he’s alone he rants to himself about her interest in Wesley, and while again it’s not a good look, his resentment and jealousy are very human and not particularly expressive of the awful toxic masculinity that has sometimes been a feature of his behaviour.

Having played particularly deftly with Xander for the first half of the episode, Petrie then gets deliberately reflexive for the back half. First, Angel (in character as Angelus) punches Xander cold in the middle of his anxious chatter, and saying “that guy just bugs me.” It is no accident this comes right after Xander’s selfish fretting over Wesley and Cordelia – Petrie is giving the audience a moment of pleasure here and indicating that we shouldn’t think Xander’s behaviour is acceptable.

And then, as a direct outcome of this moment, Petrie has Xander consciously follow up his big moment in Revelations, once again speaking up to argue an unpopular opinion as he tells the others Angel has flipped back to Angelus, and that Faith is at his side. This time he takes the opportunity to lay blame for the situation on Wesley, who should have Faith under control. Just as in Revelations the self-serving aspect cannot be ignored, but like his charge against Buffy in that episode it stands up as a fair point – and one that only Xander could vocalize.

So what we have here is Petrie following on with some of the aspects of Xander we saw in Revelations – but also discarding the noir “hard-boiled” aspects teased in that episode. Instead he fills the spaces with the goofball Xander who was a product of The Zeppo, making this a episode effectively a proposal for a best-of-both-versions take on the character, and proof that using Xander just for cheap laughs does him, and the show, a disservice.

Buffy Loves Angel
Jealousy is something of a theme here for the Scoobies, in fact. While Xander frets about Cordelia and Wesley, Willow is troubled by Faith and Xander, and Buffy is upset about Angel and Faith. The Buffy/Angel relationship is back in the spotlight here, opening on some cute romance between them as they emerge from an unexpectedly steamy foreign film and get all awkward. It’s the first good look we’ve had at their relationship since way back in Amends, where Angel was ready to kill himself to keep Buffy safe. Turns out they’re a cute romantic couple pledging forever love to each other, and all that angst is behind them. I can dig it – I guess that moment in The Zeppo shows the same – although it feels like clumsy storytelling to have avoided a clear picture of what was going on between them for so long after the ambiguous resolution in Amends.

Typically for this show, the relationship is foregrounded at the start only to lay the ground for upheaval. The Angelus gambit worked a little too well, and at the end of the episode a shaken Buffy tells Angel she needs some time and space. I think this is a simply remarkable move by the show. That commitment to realistic emotional consequences is again honoured, in the process splitting Angel and Buffy apart in a dramatic way that requires no misunderstanding or misdeed on either part. The fact that Buffy is unsettled so deeply as a side effect of her own successful plan is a painful irony, and it provides real uncertainty about what lies ahead for the two characters and their relationship. As much as the world around the narrative has flattened into irrelevance, that narrative is regularly delivering excellent and unexpected character-based stories.

Other notes:
* As fake-foreign-film names go, Le Banquet D’Amelia is very fake.
* Why the heck does the Mayor want to take Angel’s soul away and bring back Angelus? Surely that plan would fall into the “more trouble than it’s worth” box?
* More Willow/magic stuff, as Willow gets into Giles’ secret stash containing magic that (as she acknowledges) Giles doesn’t think she’s ready for. Her confidence – overconfidence? – is notable here, and while it isn’t exactly presented as a flaw here, it’s easy to see the writing team trying out that idea to see what Alyson Hannigan does with it.
* The demon in this episode calls himself “people”, and brings into question Faith’s equation that “a demon’s a demon”. That distinction between humans and monsters is continuing to break down. Wesley says “And you say this demon wanted cash? That’s very unusual.” – and it is at this stage of the show’s development, but in a year’s time when we’re deep into Angel this won’t seem unusual in the least.
* The late-episode reveal that even the audience wasn’t in on the hero’s plan, and that moment when all seemed lost was really just things falling into place, was most famously pulled off in The Sting. It isn’t much done on television, although I think it plays a bit better as an instalment of an episodic narrative rather than as the structure of a whole; false jeopardy is an interesting twist when you know there’s more trouble coming next week, but can feel like a cheat when that’s all you’ve been watching.

Watching Buffy: s03e16 “Doppelgangland”


It’s a Joss Whedon joint! The showrunner slips into the writer-director cockpit once again, this time not to deliver a major turning point in the show’s narrative arc, but just the write the hell out of a great episode premise. But I do wonder how exactly this came about. Or put another way, what was this episode going to be about, before it had to be about Vampire Willow?

You see, Emma Caulfield (who played Anya) says she was signed up front for two episodes in season three – her debut in The Wish, and a follow-up episode that ended up being this one. I think it’s likely she’s right, because Wish ends with the villain in fine health and still committed to wickedness, albeit without her crucial power. It’s a dangling loose end that the show usually makes a point of tying off.

In which case, the writers’ room always knew there would be a chaser to The Wish where Anya came back. On their big planning board they must have written up “Anya 2: Electric Boogaloo” or something. But whatever ideas they might have had for the episode would’ve been quickly scratched out as soon as they saw what was happening on Wish. Alyson Hannigan as Vampire Willow was incredible. The part would have looked good on the page, sure, but until they saw Alyson Hannigan in the makeup, saw her performance, they couldn’t have known that they’d struck a rich vein of gold. (The world sure didn’t end up clamouring for more Vampire Xander, or for more Vampire Buffy for that matter.)

I think it’s likely that Joss went right into the writers’ room after watching Wish dailies and put his name on the board: “I’ve got this one.” He wanted to write for Vampire Willow.

And credit where it’s due (presumably Whedon, but who knows for sure): bringing Vampire Willow into the regular world is a stupendous idea. It ties in so much that’s going on with Willow right now. She’s been working all season on self-development – her affair with Xander, her steady exploration of magic, and her frequent leadership of the Scoobies have all deeply expanded her role as resident nerdy girl and emotional lightning rod. Confronting her with an alternate self is a powerful way to drag all of these aspects into the foreground and force her to address some of her issues.

In an early scene, Willow is carefully levitating a pencil while talking to Buffy, and she says something about how magic works that we’ve never heard before: “magic is all about emotional control.” This is a perfect frame, giving magic a clear character-defining function. Almost all dramatic storytelling is about characters struggling with the emotions provoked by this or that event, so it’s a very potent model – I’m almost surprised I’ve never heard this formula stated so baldly before now. (Note that this description doesn’t really fit with how we’ve seen magic used before (Amy ratting herself in a panic) or how we’ll see it after this point (basically everything in season six), but I don’t see this as an inconsistency – it’s just a stage of understanding Willow’s going through.)

So this story specifically becomes focused on how Willow is, despite appearances, a mess of upset and anxiety just below the surface. Her reaction to mention of Faith is a case in point – she loses control of herself entirely. This is a callback to the moment last episode when she worked out that Xander and Faith had slept together, and the show gave us a brief, unremarked-on shot of her sobbing in the bathroom at the news.

As well as this, the show starts pushing Willow back into earlier forms of herself – her fashion sense dials back to a look more in keeping with early season two, and Snyder saddles her with a dumb jock needing academic help (another season two move – Snyder even references the swim team). The dumb jock in turn leans on her to just do all the work for him. All of this pressure makes it very believable and relatable that Willow decides she’s going to stop holding herself back and take some risks.

Oddly enough, this comes right after the two-part “bad influence” story where Buffy decided she was going to stop holding herself back and take some risks. That didn’t go so well. Willow follows the pattern herself, as she meets Anya and is lured into helping her with a spell. When she sees a vision of the Wish alternate reality, she breaks the spell. Well, there’s that lesson learned – Willow walks away from Anya, aware she had gone too far.

So that complete character arc for Willow – I’m a rebel and I’ll take risks! Oh no that went wrong I’ve learned my lesson! – is just setup for the real meat of the story. The spell works just well enough to bring Vampire Willow through to Sunnydale. She walks down the street, horrified by what she sees (in a shot that matches Cordy’s reaction to the devastated Sunnydale of the Wish universe.)

What we get from here is a beautiful comedy of personal growth, where the vampiric Willow is able to solve real-Willow’s problems by being badass (the show gives her the same prowl-of-dominance that Xander did in The Pack), and then real Willow must access her own hidden depths in order to impersonate vampiric Willow and save the day. Along the way, we get superlative character comedy between the Scoobies and their wider circle, and more than a few hits of solid drama. (Seth Green, as per usual, absolutely nails his very short scene witnessing his girlfriend as a vampire.)

But the beautiful part is the conclusion, where Willow – having exceeded her own expectations, and proved to herself that she isn’t just the nerdy anxious girl – is true to her empathic nature, demanding the group spare her vampiric doppelganger. It’s a simple gesture, and it doesn’t play as heroic or naive or anything at all on that axis. It is clearly pitched as a much more personal decision, and the metaphorical reading is clear: Willow knows that she has complexity inside her, and potential untapped, and just like everyone else, part of that is the potential for evil. Willow’s self-insight gives her a powerful sense of kinship with her other self. It’s a great gesture for the story, and for the overall philosophical point being made by this show, about the nature of identity, and the choices that we make. The show doesn’t explicitly endorse Willow’s choice, but it respects it, and I think it would be a hardhearted audience member who didn’t feel the same. We’ve learned something about Willow, here, but I think her example helps us learn something about ourselves.

Also, this:
Willow: I’m so evil and… skanky. And I think I’m kinda gay.
Buffy: Willow, just remember, a vampire’s personality has nothing to do with the person it was.
Angel: Well, actually… (off Buffy’s look) That’s a good point.

Other notes:
* Anya returns! She’s still a pretty shaky character, but there’s the definite shape of what she will become here in her immense frustration.
* Sunnydale High still has a basketball team? Who knew!
* The tranq gun works on Vampire Willow. So if it works on vampires… why don’t the Scoobies start carrying it around with them on patrol? (Because this is not the sort of story where that happens, of course.)
* The perils of the huge ensemble – Faith appears early then disappears, Angel waits until the show’s half done before he appears, and Cordelia doesn’t make an appearance until an astonishing 32 minutes have gone by. The show really has no idea what to do with Cordelia in these episodes.
* The Mayor is finally interacting with someone interesting, namely Faith, but it’s still very hard to read what’s happening here. Faith’s move to his side was undercooked in the previous episode and this sheds little light – she likes the fancy apartment he’s got for her, but Faith has never been motivated by wealth or luxury. The Mayor tells her he’s a family man, but we don’t even get any information about how to take that – is he? If he is, where are they? The Mayor remains a fairly frustrating figure, despite being very amusing and a little creepy, because although he signifies the wider world, he seems to possess no real links to that world – no governmental responsibilities, no family relationships, no ambitions or concerns other than his villainous supernatural ones. Maybe next episode we’ll finally get a handle on the guy…

Watching Buffy: s03e15 “Consequences”


“Buffy, if you know something, if you’re protecting someone, I promise you it’ll be better for everyone if you just come clean.”

Detective Paul Stein is probably the least-celebrated recurring character in all of Buffy. He’s the cop who investigated Buffy’s involvement in a suspected murder in Ted, and then again in Becoming, Part 2, and then yet again in this episode. Each time, he has a thankless task: to ask Buffy Summers to account for the ways in which her fictional world doesn’t mesh with reality. We take it as a given that Buffy cannot speak truthfully to him, she must hide the supernatural world of which she is a part. There is little reason for this discretion, given the world the show has presented to us – the high death rate joked about in numerous episodes, the constant weird events and monstrous deaths in the town, the fact Stein’s boss is actively covering up vampire activity. The real reason she must hide the supernatural world is because the structure and metaphor of the show demand it; if Buffy told the truth, and Stein was allowed to act on this in a realistic way, the whole world of the show would shift. And that can’t happen, because the show is called Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

So Stein is (inadvertently) trying to break the show, and Buffy is trying to defend it, and we know she must succeed so the show might continue. Why is Stein there at all, then? What’s the point of bringing him in for a conflict with a foregone conclusion? The answer is the episode’s title, Consequences. The show has committed to realistic emotional consequences since the beginning, but it has always played pretty fast-and-loose with other types of consequence. Here, however, it has trapped itself, since the emotional consequences arising from the accidental murder of Allen Finch can only work if real-world consequences are allowed to play out as well. The show says Faith has crossed a line by killing Finch, and that charge would feel weightless unless the world around the characters endorsed it with a police investigation.

I argued last episode that Faith killing a human, not a vampire, was a cheat as an ethical line to divide Faith and Buffy. This show now presents monsters, vampires and demons as persons, so it’s on shaky ground when it says killing monsters is fine but killing humans is unthinkable. The presence of Detective Stein here is a clear marker of this odd double standard. It’s all too easy to imagine Stein, if made aware of the existence of demons and vampires, applying his diligent questioning approach to seek out the cause of a suspicious death even if the victim was a monster.

Richard Williams wrote something interesting in a Google Plus comment on the last post: “In Buffy the protagonist exists in an environment outside our society, there is no justice, no protection, no law that she does not have to enforce herself.” I agree with this description, although I think the show has no good justification for why this must be so. The supernatural is real in this world, and those in authority – the Mayor, no less – know about it. There is no reason why justice, protection and law should not be extended into this new realm. (Cue countless urban fantasy books about police detectives dealing with vampire crimes.)

Nevertheless, reasonless or not, Williams’ comment is right on point, and it goes to the heart of the conflict between Faith and Buffy. To its credit, the show has gone a few steps beyond the obvious differences between them – it would be fairly easy to build more conflict where Faith’s adventurous risk-taking style causes problems for Buffy’s more reserved and cautious nature. Instead, the show has used these differences to create a problem that illuminates a completely different (although related) conflict, regarding how the Slayer sees her responsibility to the world. As Faith says: “What bugs you is you know I’m right. You know in your gut we don’t need the law. We are the law.”

And this is a real, deep, powerful conflict for Buffy, because it strikes right at the core of Buffy’s greatest flaw. Buffy’s instinct to take on too much herself, to refuse help from her friends and bear the brunt of risk and pain alone, has got her into trouble before and will get her into trouble again. Buffy’s refusal to be honest with the police is simply more of the same. The conflict between Buffy and Faith that splits them apart in this episode is not the risky vs cautious angle the show’s been playing all season, but something much more powerful. The question is, when you have the power to sit above the world, must you sacrifice yourself to it?

Buffy spent season one convincing herself that her answer was yes. But what right does Buffy have to tell Faith to make the same decision? It’s meaty stuff, a big question with no clear answer and lots of provocation for story. It’s the kind of question you can only get to in your third season, relying as it does on a deep understanding of your characters, your themes, and your world. It’s a conflict so good that it makes Faith retain some sympathy even as she turns to the dark side in this story. And that dark side is, of course, the Mayor, the embodiment of someone with the power to sit above the world who has not the slightest intention of serving it. The show is dropping the key parts of this season-long story arc into place just in time for a heck of a run to the season finale. This is gripping, mature, sophisticated television.

Other notes:
* Poor Cordelia is still filling in time until the end of the season, but her flirtation with Wesley is amusing at least.
* Another lovely reversal where we expect Faith’s lie that Buffy was responsible will put her at odds with Giles, but he saw through her immediately.
* Xander actually gets some great stuff here. He goes to talk to Faith to try and get her to open up to him, and it is a horrific misjudgment on his part as Faith assaults him. In the process he also hurts Willow, who divines the reason for his approach to her and cries in the bathroom.
* Alas, Mr Trick. We knew him, Horatio, but not that well. An underserved bad guy, wasted to put over the Faith-turns-bad storyline. Bother.
* Does Faith kill Trick selfishly or selflessly? Does she do it because Buffy’s in danger, or so she can create an opportunity with the Mayor? Or both? I don’t know. I think the show wants us to think she did it selflessly, then stun us with the revelation that her motives were different all along. It doesn’t come across clearly, however, and my assumption (on first viewing and now on another look) is that Faith killed Trick to save Buffy, but then thought about it and realised the Mayor might have a place for her.

Watching Buffy: s03e14 “Bad Girls”


It’s almost surprising we’re half-way through season three, with only a few episodes left before high school is just a memory, and the show is only now getting to the Bad Influence story. You know the one: don’t hang out with the wrong crowd, or they will lead you astray. You’ve seen it in a dozen films and TV shows, and there’s an even chance you’ve lived it. The Bad Influence story is one of the fundamental morality tales of youth, and it is intimately entwined with high school, that era of surging hormones, growing independence, and very poor judgment. It also has a surprising amount of resonance with the threat of the vampire – you can see the outlines of the Bad Influence story in Dracula, with Mina watching in prudish horror as Lucy falls under the sway of a sexily alluring bad boy.

Despite this, the show has avoided the Bad Influence story so far, and it isn’t too hard to see why. The Bad Influence story is about the normal kid who is led astray by the glamour of rule-breaking, but in this show, there is no normal kid. These kids are the nerds. They hang out in the library and obsess about their subcultural thing and exist a step or two removed from the social world of high school. Why would a heartthrob rebel influence them? They’ve got coding/larping/vampire-slaying to do, dammit! In fact the show’s effectively run a Good Influence story on Cordelia, who is no longer a mean socialite, and now limits her sniping to the very deserving target that is Xander.

The closest the show has to a normal kid is Buffy. She has been tempted by a sexy older-man rule-breaker, but one so diligently moral the show really had to stretch to make Buffy compromise herself for him (for example, her unlikely decision not to tell her friends he had returned from death). She’s also been the rule-breaker herself – Snyder identified her early on as the Bad Influence on Willow and Xander, but again her clear commitment to doing good rather undermined that allegation. Even her influence on Giles, luring him away from the accepted practices of the Watcher’s Council, is clearly presented in the show as a good thing (witness Kendra’s growing acceptance of their unorthodox partnership).

Buffy herself, her character, has never really been tested. She has been a good girl for forty-seven episodes. When the show starts easing her into temptation here, it immediately feels heavy with accumulated potential energy. It also feels entirely organic because of the show’s patience with the Bad Influence.

Which is to say, Faith finally has a role in the story as of this episode. She’s been kicking around since episode three but apart from featuring in the seventh episode (the one with false watcher Gwendolyn Post) she’s basically contributed nothing of substance to the show. Even Oz and Cordy have had bigger impacts on the series narrative. She’s become just another member of the ensemble, turning up to deliver sass and sex appeal. For such an epic character – the new Slayer, the new Chosen One, Buffy’s counterpart self – her impact has been underwhelming.

While somewhat unsatisfying, that’s been part of the show’s long game. We’ve become comfortable with Faith and her rebellious appeal – in fact, we’ve enjoyed it, because while she hasn’t been given much to do, she’s stolen a lot of scenes along the way. When Buffy actually starts paying attention to her message, it makes sense immediately, because we’ve been getting comfortable with it too.

Like most Bad Influence stories featuring young women, this is all about sex. The episode opens with Faith quizzing Buffy on why she hasn’t slept with Xander, and mocking her for worrying that sex might ruin a friendship. Later Faith talks about the charge she gets from slaying a vampire, and challenging Buffy to say “staking a vamp doesn’t get you a little bit juiced…” Later, obviously excited by the new world Faith is showing her, Buffy sneaks out of class to fight vampires and then hits the Bronze to get into some sexy dancing. She wraps her legs around Angel when he shows up. All of this is very out of character for the sexually reserved Buffy, very in character for the sexually adventurous Faith, and yet somehow it’s easy to go along with simply because we (and Buffy) have had so long to get used to how Faith moves through the world.

That gets us to the halfway point. The mid-episode cliffhanger is a clear sign that we’re in trouble, as Faith and Buffy get stopped by two police officers. The police always serve as an intrusive presence in Buffy, breaking the logic of the story world and dragging the whole narrative towards collapse. They don’t respect the rules of story, and they can tear apart the whole structure of the show if they are provoked. You don’t mess with the police.

Faith immediately pulls Buffy into messing with the police.

In most Bad Influence stories, this is the climax. This is where the kid who’s just playing at rebellion realizes that nothing lies down that path but misery and pain and prison and diseases and every other dark future their parents and teachers warned them about, and they tearfully renounce badness and split with their “bad influence”, expressing only pity for that rebel’s empty lifestyle. Here, however, things are going to play out differently. This show presents a heightened world, where a cheerful teenage girl engages in deadly battle with vampires while keeping up with her homework. The police signal the upset, but they do not mark its final form. The true crisis happens when an overeager and careless Faith accidentally kills a human.

It’s a genuinely shocking moment. The victim is a minor recurring character, and to see him bleed out after being murdered by Faith is deeply unsettling. That’s the three-quarter climax, and it’s a heck of a good swerve.

It’s also fraudulent.

This show has evolved substantially from its early presentation of the supernatural. In season one, the enemy were almost all cruel and weird murderers – the glorified serial killers that were the Master’s vampires, and an array of inhuman devouring demons. Since then, the show has slowly shifted the enemy to suggest that there is an entire supernatural subculture out there, a hidden world with its own rules and rumours and seedy dive bar hangouts. Key vampires like Spike and the Gorches and Mr Trick have had personalities with more human dimension than the Master or Darla managed in season one. Demons like Anyanka appear to have personal depth and internal lives. Questionable figures like Ethan Rayne hover around the edges, greying out the moral boundaries between good and evil. The villains have become people, and the Buffy universe is vastly richer as a result.

However, the meaning of the Slayer has changed as a consequence. The idea of a young girl who murders a succession of irredeemably cruel murderers, as in season one, is black-and-white enough that we can round down the moral questions and end up with a fun monster-fighting show. The idea of that young girl murdering a bunch of people – even if they are bad people – doesn’t sit as smoothly. And yet that is what this show has become. This is a show about a vigilante murderer, and we are encouraged to overlook this fact simply because the victims don’t exactly fit our category of “human”. They are people who laugh and love, but they are demons or vampires or whatever as well, and that means Buffy and Faith can kill them with impunity. It’s fundamentally false, as is immediately apparent when you consider who among the Scoobies would even support the death penalty. (Xander, maybe?) And yet they all jauntily participate in the execution of any monster who crosses their path.

This is another faultline in the moral world of the show, and this episode seems to walk right along it without really pausing to properly consider its ramifications. The epic crisis in this episode occurs because Faith kills a human, and we do feel it. But I think we feel it because we have seen Allan Finch a few times before now and we understand him to be potentially sympathetic. It isn’t because he is a human that we are shocked by his death at Faith’s hands, but because he is a non-combatant, even an innocent.

The show doesn’t seem to see it this way. Buffy and Faith fall out over the murder of a human, not the murder of an innocent. (Would Buffy be so concerned if Faith had killed a demon who had done no more or less harm than Allan Finch?) For all that this crisis is not on solid ground, it is still remarkably effective. Faith reveals to Buffy that she doesn’t feel at all bad for what she did, and in fact she has disposed of the body. Again, we’re meant to be shocked at her amorality, but we’ve been watching Buffy kill for two seasons now, and so Faith’s reaction does carry a certain layer of sense.

The police arrival at the midpoint shattered the walls that keep this show safe in its own little world of monsters and vampires; Faith is showing that she doesn’t intend to show the wider world any greater respect. The relationship between Buffy and Faith finally has a real conflict driving it, and it’s a good one, but if they aren’t careful they could knock the whole show off-kilter. Best of all, we are once again in a situation where it’s impossible to know what will happen next.

Other notes:
* The Mayor is finally back on the scene, once again lurking in the background and performing a weird magic ritual. Several moments sell his character beautifully – laughing at the anodyne Family Circus cartoon, then reacting with distaste to Mr Trick’s affection for Marmaduke because he’s unhygienic. Opening a cupboard full of sinister magic objects to retrieve… a packet of cleansing wipes. Crossing “become invincible” off a very mundane to-do list.
* Mr Trick is still not in any kind of focus. He and the Mayor are so far removed from the Scooby Gang that it’s hard to really invest in them emotionally as bad guys.
* The new watcher Wesley arrives – he’s a nicely played comedy character, but he’s mostly treated with respect by the show. Until the end of the episode when he’s capture and promptly spills every secret he has. Way to throw the guy under the bus in his first appearance, show. Can’t see how he’ll be sticking around!
* Xander’s eye-twitch whenever Buffy says Faith’s name is genuinely funny, but his desperate attempt to insult Cordelia’s clothing for being like a hooker is another sign of how making the instinct character also the voice of masculinity leads you right into trouble.
* There’s a story a few places around the net that the original plan for the episode was to end with Buffy discovering Faith has killed herself, and this was only changed because the creative team liked what Faith brought to the show. I find myself unconvinced by this story – it might contain a small bead of truth, but it just doesn’t sound right for the show. (Not to mention that it doesn’t seem to go anywhere or provoke any action from anyone, it just ends Faith’s story abruptly.) I’d welcome a link to any of the show’s actual creators commenting on this idea.

Watching Buffy: s03e13 “The Zeppo”


What is the point of Xander? He doesn’t offer Willow’s empathy and nerd abilities, or Giles’s knowledge and common sense, or Oz’s wisdom and wolfy-powers. He doesn’t do anything particularly well, except screw up. Why is he there? Why do the others allow him to get involved?

Revelations offered a compelling answer: Xander could disrupt the patterns the rest of the group tend to follow, and hold them to account when their ethics and morals are getting tangled. He could, in short, be the guy who cuts the crap. And as the most vulnerable person on the team, he’s a natural in the role, because uncut crap gets guys like him killed. That was a Xander with a point, a Xander who could justify his presence in the group.

Now forget that Xander. The writer’s room did. Maybe deliberately, deciding it was a narrative dead-end or something Nick Brendan couldn’t pull off or something else. Maybe they simply didn’t remember what Doug Petrie had done with the character. Maybe they didn’t understand how Petrie’s version would play out. Who knows? Whatever the reason, the show lined up this episode to tackle the same question again. What is the point of Xander? Writer Dan Vebber would deliver a very different answer.

In this episode, the Scooby gang face a grave and apocalyptic threat that forces them to confront their fears and feelings, before the danger culminates in an epic showdown with terrifying demonic enemies. Big, epic stuff. Also, in the opening scene, Xander is hurt, and the other Scoobies suggest he transition into more of a support role. While he is unhappy at the suggestion he can’t handle himself, he ends up fetching snacks while the rest of the Scoobies prepare.

In a more conventional show, things would play out from here in a predictable way. The Scoobies would face the horrific threat and the terrifying climax in the A-story. Meanwhile, in the B-story, we’d get glimpses of Xander slumping about the place, sad about being unappreciated. Then at the end of the episode the stories would recombine, as Xander would discover some crucial weakness and show up at the climax to provide the right assistance at the right moment. Everyone would win, the Scoobies would concede Xander was valuable after all, Xander would concede he shouldn’t be charging into battle so readily, they’d all laugh together, freeze frame and out.

Not this show. The episode completely flips the A story and the B story. The apocalyptic threat is gleefully relegated to the status of a runner, allowing the comic misadventures of Xander Harris to take centre stage.

The episode takes its time to let this reversal become clear. Early on we get our standard scenes of Buffy receiving portentous information from Giles in the library, and then a research scene that sets up information-gathering moves from Buffy and Giles. Everything looks very normal except we’re spending more and more time with Xander, to the point where the camera just stays with him for most of the second act. Soon the episode becomes a series of vignettes where Xander stumbles into a moment with each of the other characters, each time with steadily increasing comedy, culminating in the stupendous moment where Xander interrupts a charged tragic-romance scene between Angel and Buffy. Dramatic music stops and starts around his interruption, as the episode has become a parody of itself, while at the same time being absolutely sincere in every way. It’s utterly hilarious – Xander disrupts the show’s normal form by violating the way its stories are (through careful editing) assembled into dramatic narratives. We’re not just getting Xander’s perspective on life in the Scooby gang, we’re getting a sideways glimpse of how Buffy stories are made.

Throughout, Xander has an arc. After having his confidence sapped by the Scoobies telling him to step back and Cordelia attacking his sense of self-worth, he tries to act cool, and ends up being recruited by some very scary (but very street-level) thugs who turn out to be zombies trying to blow up the school. Across the episode Xander’s attempts to get help from the others come to naught, and he ends up having to stop these guys and their bomb himself, which he does by demonstrating that he is in fact willing to die in order to save the day. He then goes on to keep the whole affair to himself rather than brag about his success or show how he has been misjudged by his friends, and his new sense of self-worth allows him to brush off more invective from Cordelia and embrace his role as snack-fetcher. (Notably, no-one in the Scoobies reconsiders their decision to keep Xander away from the danger zone.) It’s a lovely arc, and the final confrontation, where Xander gently engages in a showdown over a ticking bomb, is perfectly played by Brendan.

So we finish this episode with a Xander who is at peace with himself. Roll credits.

And now we know: what is the point of Xander? He’s the snack guy, and he’s cool with it.

Wait. What?

This is a resounding personal triumph for Xander the character, finding self-acceptance; but it is a disaster for Xander the member of an action-drama ensemble. The problem was “he contributes nothing substantial to the Scoobies”, and you can’t fix that with “and he’s okay with it”. That is the opposite of fixing it! Nick Brendan will still be turning up to work every Monday, and every script will need to find stuff for him to do. At least his anxious inadequacy was a source of some kind of plot energy and character motivation, forcing him to try and justify his presence. Now he isn’t even going to do that? How is this better? How can this do anything but make Xander even more redundant?

This episode is surely one of the best chunks of TV to go out under the Buffy name – it is intelligent and suspenseful and laugh-out-loud funny. But it’s a failure where it matters. It set out to fix Xander, and it ended up making things worse. Xander is still broken, still pointless, but now he’s even harder to fix.

You had one job, episode. You had one job.

Other notes:
* Have to mention the highly-memorable scene where Xander is deflowered by Faith and then decisively shown the door, with the romantic/sexy music abruptly ending and Brendan looking absolutely bewildered.
* Willy at the demon bar again makes an appearance – this is likely a riff on Josie’s Bar, a staple of Frank Miller’s Daredevil run during Joss Whedon’s phase of high comics geekery.
* Vebber’s previous Buffy episode was the superb return-of-Spike episode Lover’s Walk. This one is even better, and while it is certain that the whole room was pitching laugh moments aplenty, the result feels expertly judged and strongly unified. Might as well give Vebber the credit for another classic. He never works on Buffy again.
* Okay, there is one moment in this episode that stretches credulity too far: that it’s Cordelia who calls Xander “the Zeppo”. That’s the kind of reference that might be believable coming from a TV nerd brought up in a family of TV writers cough cough Joss Whedon, but Cordelia? What, she’s been watching Animal Crackers while recovering from her impalement?
* Not really a fan of Xander desperately calling for those guys to throw him the ball at the top of the ep. I have never seen someone do this.
* The Buffyverse creative team decided not to transform the useless comedy character into a badass. Probably a good decision – no way the audience would go along with that sort of thing, huh. In completely unrelated news, new character Wesley debuts next episode!