Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Prophecy Girl"

There is a lot going on in this episode, which is, I suppose, to be expected in a season ending episode of a novelistic show. Television, by the way, given its potential length (there were 144 episodes of Buffy) can be novelistic in a way film can’t. Film, excepting perhaps some of the work of Jacques Rivette and Bela Tarr, is always more akin to a short story given its more limited length.

Narrative Parallelism: There are a significant numbers of elegant narrative parallelisms between the last episode of season one, “Prophecy Girl”, and the first, “Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest”. In both episodes Buffy retires. In both episodes Buffy is invariably drawn back to her slayer duties because of her sense of responsibility to others, particularly the other Scoobies (a theme that will, of course, pop up again and again in later Buffy episodes). In both episodes there are (brilliant) parallel melancholy speeches. The “[p]repare me for what? For getting kicked out of school? Loosing all my friends? Having to spend all my time fighting form my life and never getting to tell anyone because it might ‘endanger them? Go ahead. Prepare Me” speech in “Welcome to the Hellmouth”. The “[s]o that’s it, huh? My time is up. I remember the drill. ‘One Slayer dies, the next is called.’ I wonder who the next one is? Are you going to train her? Or will they send someone else?” speech in “Prophecy Girl”. In both episodes Xander saves Buffy. In “The Harvest” Xander pulls Buffy from a manhole (is this a foreshadowing of Xander literally saving Buffy’s life in “Prophecy Girl”?). In “Prophecy Girl” Xander saves Buffy’s life by forcing Angel to show him where the Master’s lair is and by giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (“CPR”) once the Master has bitten and killed Buffy.

Previously on Buffy: Buffy dreamt of her death in “Nightmares”. Her battle with the Master is somewhat different her than how she dreamed it in “Nightmares”. In “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” we were introduced to the “Pergamum Codex”, a book of prophesies about the role of the Slayer in the end times. In “Prophecy Girl” we see Giles find and then translate a prophecy about the Slayer and the Master and we see Giles discuss the nature of the prophecy with Angel: “Tomorrow night, Buffy will face the Master. And she will die” (act one). Cordy tells Willow that she “really likes” her “outfit”. In “Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest” Cordy nastily refers to Willow’s clothes as “the softer side of Sears” (Sears is a bad word in Cordy’s vocabulary because of its mass nature). Cordy, of course, wants Willow to do a favour for her. Jenny Calendar from“I Robot…You Jane” is back. She tells Giles that something apocalyptic (“I’d say the end is pretty seriously nigh”) is going on. “The Anointed One” (“Never Kill a Boy on the First Date”) is back and fulfils the prophecy about him by leading Buffy into the Master’s underground lair.

Foreshadowings: In “Prophecy Girl” Buffy retires symbolizing her retirement by pulling off the cross that Angel gave her in “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and throwing it to the floor (symbolising Buffy then throwing off her slayer “calling”). Is Buffy’s throwing of the cross that Angel gave her also a foreshadowing of the Buffy/Angel relationship in season two and season three?

Portents: The earthquake which damages the Sunnydale High School Library. The Library as we will soon learn sits over the Hellmouth. The Master was imprisoned in his church prison as a result of an earthquake in 1937 as Willow discovers while doing research (“The Harvest”). The earthquake foreshadows the battle at the library between the Scoobies and the Master and the forces of the Hellmouth (the vamps and the demon). Vampires coming closer and closer to Sunnydale High School and eventually attacking and killing students in the high school itself. This again is a tip off that Sunnydale High is over the Hellmouth. Blood coming out of the taps at Sunnydale High School.

Are Prophecies Destiny?: Giles says some prophecies are “mutable” though not those of “the Codex”.

Scenes: “Prophecy Girl” is, for me, an absolutely superb episode. There are several scenes in this episode which I found and continue to find particularly memorable. I love the scene where Buffy learns of the prophecy that she will die at the hands of the Master and resigns (“I quit. I resign. I am fired”) at the end of act one and beginning of act two. This is not, by the way, the last time that Buffy will quit (see season three). This scene is brilliantly acted by Anthony Stewart Head, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and David Boreanaz. I particularly love the anger SMG expresses in the inflections of her voice and by throwing books at Giles. This is not, by the way, the last time Buffy will throw something at Giles (see season three). Beyond all of this the scene touches on a theme central to the season and the series: will Buffy take up her slayer “calling”.

I love the scene between Willow and Cordy, who now seem to be almost friends, in which they discover that vampires have invaded Sunnydale High School and killed several students, including Cordy’s boyfriend of the week Kevin, in the A-V room. As Cordy and Willow walk toward the A-V room looking for Kevin Cordy complains that Kevin did not bring everything to the Bronze as he promised. They go to the door of the A-V room, look inside, and see that they guys, Kevin included, are watching “cartoons” (a looney tunes cartoon—this, by the way, is not the last time a looney tunes cartoon will appear in Buffy). They go inside and find that all the “guys” in the A-V room have been savagely killed by vamps.

I love the scene that follows in act two, the scene in which Willow talks to Buffy about how the deaths in the A-V room have affected her. This is one the first great Willow-Buffy friendship scenes. Buffy ask Willow if she is OK. Willow says no she is not OK. “I knew those guys (the guys who were killed by vamps in the A-V room at Sunnydale High). I go to that room everyday. And when I walked in there, it was…it wasn’t our world anymore. They made it theirs and they had fun”. Willow feels violated. Willow asks Buffy “[w]hat are we going to do”. Buffy responds saying“[w]hat we have to.

It is at this point that Buffy decides that she has to protect her friends. Buffy thus returns to the Sunnydale High Library and, in another scene I love, tells Giles that she is going to “face” the Master (symbolized by picking up the cross Angel gave her). When Giles tells her “no you’re not” and that it will be he who will face the Master, Buffy knocks Giles out (the second time this happens) and tells Jenny to “think of something cool, tell him I said it”. Buffy leaves Sunnydale High, runs into the Anointed One, takes his hands, and heads into “hell” to face the Master and the apocalypse ending act two.

Arc Endings and Beginnings: The Xander loves Buffy arc comes to a critical point. Xander asks Buffy to the prom and tells her he wants to be her boyfriend. Buffy tells Xander that “you are one of my best friends” (she calls him one of the girls in “The Witch”) and that she doesn’t “think of him in that (girlfriend-boyfriend) way”. Xander asks Buffy if he has to be “undead (like Angel) to make time” with Buffy. Buffy, of course, likes the “undead” Angel. Angel will not be the last undead vampire Buffy will have a relationship with (see seasons six and seven). After being rebuffed by the Buffster Xander, on the rebound, asks Willow to the prom. Willow, despite her feelings for Xander, tells him “no, there’s no way”. Willow will not be Xander’s rebound girl. Angel has been avoiding Buffy since “Angel”. At the end of “Prophecy Girl” they seem to be back together and on their way to “party” at the “spring fling” which is being held at the Bronze.

Blood: The Master kills Buffy by using hypnosis on her and biting her and sucking her blood. This gives him the power to break the invisible bars that keep him trapped in his underground prison (“You’re the one that frees me. If you hadn’t come. I couldn’t go” the Master tells Buffy) at the end of act three. When Buffy is resurrected by Xander in act four she, presumably thanks to being bitten by the Master (did she receive some of his blood?), feels stronger and knows where the Master is. Drusilla, by the way, will similarly use hypnosis on Kendra in “What’s My Line” in season two.

Character: Giles gets angry with Jenny (a “Ripper” moment?). A little bit of Ripper? Cordy has a new boy-toy, Kevin. Jenny and Cordy become semi-Scoobies. Nasty Xander reappears (see “The Pack”) and he forces a “nerd” to leave a bench he wants Buffy and him to sit on so he can talk to her about how he feels about her. Xander tells Buffy that he doesn’t handle rejection well despite having a lot of practise being rejected. Cordy seems to be genuinely enjoying hanging with and talking with Willow.

Scoobies as Outsider Insiders: Willow wonders when Jenny Calendar became a member of “the club”.

Vampire Lore: Angel can be reached by telephone (act one).

Slayers: Jenny Calendar expresses disbelief that Buffy is the Vampire Slayer because “she is so little”.

Music: Xander reacts to Buffy’s rebuff of his expression of boyfriendliness by listening to country music, “the music of pain” and specifically Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” (awesome song) Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” is an appropriate song since Xander, his love rebuffed, is “falling to pieces”. I really like the melancholy piano piece that punctuates various melancholic points in the episode. Very effective use of music to set a mood.

Cinematography: Note the use of slow motion in the Buffy-Vamp fight in the teaser. The Vamp throws Buffy violently to the ground and it looks and feels like it hurts. I really like the placement of the camera during this fight particularly in the shot where we see Buffy pull out her stake (we see Buffy’s right and her hand pulling out a stake), we see the Vamp react to the stake through facial expressions that seem to convey that he now knows Buffy is the slayer and is about ready to be dusted. Note again the prominence of blue hues in the night sequences.

Religion and the Hero: Buffy picks up her cross and is lead into “hell”, the Master’s underground lair (a collapsed and sunken church), where she dies and rises again, thanks to Angel and Xander, who gives her “CPR”. This is not the last time Buffy will die and rise again. Reference to the Biblical prophet Isaiah, specifically Isaiah 11:6 (“’A little child shall lead them’” but to where, Giles asks).

Personal Hygiene: Buffy asks Giles if she broke a nail when she comes into the library after Giles has deciphered the prophecy in “the Codex” which prophesies that Buffy will die at the hands of the Master. Buffy tells the Master that she is “still pretty” just before the climactic fight between the two in act four.

Prom Dresses: Willow (act two), the Master (act four), and Angel (act four) tell Buffy they really like her prom dress. This may be a reference to a Howard Hawks’s Rio Bravo. Is Buffy’s white dress, as other commentators have argued, a symbol of innocence, virginity, being a bride of Christ/bride of slayer?

Mothers and Daughters: In act two Joyce expresses concern about Buffy after she resigns her slayer calling. Joyce wrongly thinks Buffy’s melancholy (and poor eating habits?) is a result of her not being asked to the prom by the right guy. It is partly that but it is also the stress Buffy is under because she is a slayer and because it has been prophesied that she is to die at the hands of the Master. Joyce urges Buffy to go to the prom and gives her a dress Buffy had her eye on (Buffy: “Mom, we can’t afford it. Joyce: The way you’ve been eating? We can afford it.”). Buffy tries to convince Joyce that she and Joyce should leave Sunnydale. While Buffy probably wants to put space between herself and her “calling” it is also likely that Buffy wants to protect her mom. It is not the last time Buffy will try to convince Joyce to flee Sunnydale for safety reasons.

Girl on Girl Moment: Xander tells Buffy that Willow is not looking to date her or if she is she is playing it close to her chest.

Next Season on Buffy: Will Buffy accept her slayer calling once and for all? What is a slayer? What impact, if any, will the melancholy that has manifested itself in Buffy on several occasions in season one and particularly in “Prophecy Girl” have on Buffy next season? What impact will Buffy’s death and the battle with the Master have on Buffy and the Scoobies next season? What will happen with the Buffy/Angel relationship next year? Will Xander continue to harbour jealousies when it comes to Angel? Will Willow continue to have a thing for Xander? Will anything happen between Giles and Jenny? Will Cordy and Jennie continue to be semi-Scoobies?

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