Saturday, January 22, 2011

Buffy Blog: "School Hard"

Previously on Buffy: We hear again that Buffy burned down a school building in Los Angeles. This time we learn that Buffy burned down another building as well (“Sheila: Did you really burn down school property one time? Buffy: Well, not actually ONE time…”).

The Rituals of High School: In previous episodes of Buffy several high school rituals made their appearance: the May Queen dance in “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” and the end of the school year dance in “Prophecy Girl”. “School Hard” centres around another high school ritual event, parent-teacher night. Buffy and Sheila, as Sunnydale High’s two most “troublesome” students, at least according to Principal Snyder, are forced by Snyder to compete to see who can “prepare the refreshments, make the banners, and transform the school lounge into a habitable place for adults” for the forthcoming event the best. Whoever loses this competition between Buffy and Sheila will be judged by Sunnydale High’s “jury”, Principal Snyder, and executed by Sunnydale High’s “executioner”, Principal Snyder. In other words whoever loses will be expelled. Whoever does well may incur Snyder’s goodwill and as a result it may be less harsh in what he tells Buffy’s or Sheila’s parents on parent-teacher night.

Vampire Lore: Vampires have rituals too. The upcoming Saturday, so Jenny reckons and the “Big Ugly” vampire reveals in act one, is the “Night of Saint Vigeous”, a “Holy Night of Attack” for vampires when vampire “power” is at “its peak”.

Welcome to the Buffyverse: Spike and Drusilla make their first appearance in the Buffyverse in “School Hard”. Spike (he got his name by “torturing his victims with railroad spikes”), aka William the Bloody (James Marsters) and Drusilla, aka Dru (Juliet Landau) are, as Whedon once remarked, the Sid and Nancy of the Buffyverse.
Spike is introduced for the first time in the Buffyverse with hard rock guitar driven music as he drives his car into the sign welcoming everyone to Sunnydale in the teaser. After hitting the sign Spike gets out of his car in his “shitkicker steel-toed boots” with his vamp face on and utters the phrase “Home, sweet home”. Is this Spike’s home or simply a snarky remark? For those of us who have watched Buffy previously we know that this is not the last time Spike brings down a “Welcome to Sunnydale” sign (see the “recreation” of this scene in the season three episode “Lovers Walk” and a riff on the scene in the final episode of Buffy “Chosen” from season seven). Both the music we hear when Spike arrives and the clothes Spike wears give insight into his character.

Spike appears in the Warehouse just as the “Big Ugly” vampire is talking about the “Night of Saint Vigeous” and the opportunity it affords to “kill” the slayer. Spike makes short work of the “Big Ugly” vampire just after he makes the claim that he was at the “crucifixion” of Jesus. Spike, giving us a glimpse into part of his character through his snarky words, compares those vampires claiming to have been at the crucifixion to all those “flower children” who claimed to have been at Woodstock. They, he implies, are lying.

Shortly after Spike describes his experience of feeding on a flower child who had dropped “acid” Drusilla, wearing a white dress, enters the Warehouse. As Spike’s words and actions (see below) give us insight into Spike’s character, so Dru’s words and actions tell us something about her. We learn that Dru is a visionary. She feels the power the “Anointed One” has though it is too “dark” for her to see the Slayer. We learn that Dru is a bit off mentally in act two as she talks to her porcelain dolls (“Miss Edith speaks out of turn. She’s a bad example and will have no cakes today”, “See, Miss Edith, if you had been good you could watch the rest”). We will learn why in the season two episode “Lie to Me”. We learn that Dru is ill (“Put color in your cheeks”, “EAT”) in act two.

Spike’s reactions to Dru tell us something about his feelings for her. When she enters the Warehouse Dru doesn’t have a jacket on. Spike takes his coat off and puts it around her shoulders. Spike lets Drusilla run her finger down his cheek drawing blood. He allows Dru to lick his drawn blood. These actions reveal how much Spike cares for Drusilla. A vampire in love.

Spike promises the “Anointed One” that he will kill the slayer. Spike, we learn, has killed two slayers (“I don’t like to brag. Who am I kidding, I love to brag”), one during the Boxer Rebellion in China. We will lean more about how Spike killed this Chinese slayer in the season five episode of Buffy “Fool for Love” and the season two episode of Angel “Darla”. The other we will learn more about in season five’s “Fool For Love”.

In act one Spike sets his plan to kill Buffy in motion. He and “Big Ugly” go to the Bronze to find the Slayer. Spike tells “Big Ugly” to find something to eat. Spike then asks someone near Buffy where a phone is so he can call the police (presumably) because “[t]here’s some guy trying to bite someone”. He knows, of course, that Buffy will slip into Slayer mode and go into action. He then watches Buffy kill “Big Ugly” doing nothing to help that vamp. After Buffy dusts “Big Ugly” Spike claps his hands and tells Buffy that he will kill her on Saturday. All of Spike’s actions here give us further insight into his character (smart, brash (“I’m surrounded by idiots”), cocky, self satisfied (“If I had to do it again I’d do it exactly the same”), looks after number one). Act one ends.

Like Buffy Spike is impulsive. Instead of waiting for the “Night of Saint Vigeous” Spike and his gang attack Sunnydale High on parent-teacher night to kill the Slayer crashing through the windows of the school lounge bringing act two to an end.

Previously in the Lives of Spike and Dru: A mob almost killed Dru in Prague in the Czech Republic.

Bringing the S&M: Dru licks Spike’s blood. Spike has collected food for the ill Dru to eat, Sheila. He ties Sheila to the wall of his and Dru’s “dungeonesque” layer under the Warehouse. As Spike goes up to chat up the “Anointed One” Dru puts on her “pale, horrible, and eerily beautiful” vamp face and buries her “dripping fangs” into Sheila’s neck in act two. Buffy to Spike during their climactic fight at Sunnydale High in act four: “Wrong. It’s gonna hurt a lot”.

Vamp Power: Spike, according to the shooting script of “School Hard” holds Sheila’s gaze hypnotically. The Master used hypnosis to control and kill Buffy in “Prophecy Girl”. The Anointed One is described as a “little Godfather” in the “School Hard” shooting script. Angel can move quickly. Xander, in fact, wants to put a bell on him so he can tell when he has gone because he moves so quickly.

Vamp Culture: Spike knows about the “Anointed One”. How? Spike and Dru like to watch TV. We will see more of Spike’s love of TV in seasons four and five.

So Long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye: Spike kills the “Annoying One” at the end of “School Hard” (act four) by putting him in a cage and raising him up to the sunlight streaming in trough the windows of the Warehouse. For many devoted watchers of Buffy this was a death they had long been hoping for.

Xander the Jinx: Xander jinxes parent-teacher night by saying “as long as nothing really bad comes along”. Right after Xander utters this Spike hits Sunnydale.

The Battle Continues: Willow, after Cordy tells Buffy that she is likely to be grounded until her “tenth high school reunion” after Snyder discusses Buffy’s troublemaking with Joyce, offers Cordy a glass of the lemonade Buffy neglected to put sugar in. Compare this scene to the scene in "Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest" where Willow "helps" Cordy delete her computer work.

The Scooby Dance: the Scoobies dance together in the Bronze for the first time during “School Hard”.

The Scoobies: Jenny is working closely with the Scoobs and Cordy is helping make stakes for Buffy. Speaking of Cordy, Cordy says she will be “rooting” for Buffy but expects Spike to kill her “pretty quickly”. Cordy the forthright. Willow uses a bust to save Cordy from a vamp. Giles prepares to go into battle until Buffy drops into the library from the crawl space in the ceiling she has been using to move through the school now that Spike and his gang have taken it over. This is, of course, another reference to Die Hard.

Angel is a Fount of Information: Angel tells the Scoobies about who Spike is and how dangerous he is at the beginning of act two. “Once he starts”, he says, “he doesn’t stop, until everything in his path is dead”. Angel knows Spike.

Mothers and Daughters: Joyce once again refers to Buffy’s “troubles” in LA as one of the reasons they moved to Sunnydale after she learns that parent-teacher day is coming up and Buffy hasn’t mentioned anything about it. Joyce had previously mentioned this in the first episode of the show “Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest”. Joyce tells Buffy she doesn’t want to be “disappointed” in her “again” in act one. Buffy’s Dad, by the way, refers to Buffy’s troubles in “When She Was Bad”. Though Buffy, with Willow’s aid, tries to keep Snyder away from Joyce the principal is finally able to tell Joyce (off screen) what a troublemaker Buffy is. Just as Joyce tells Buffy to get “In the car. Now” Spike and his gang come through the windows of the Sunnydale High Lounge sending Buffy into Slayer mode. In the climactic fight between Buffy and Spike (the first of many) Joyce saves the Slayer by hitting Spike in the face with the fire-ax that had earlier been wielded by Spike and Vamp Sheila (Buffy sends Sheila fleeing for her life out of the school at the end of act three) telling Spike to “get the hell away from my daughter”. “No one…”, she says, ”lays a finger…on my little girl”. Joyce tells Buffy that she is proud to have a daughter who is “brave”, “resourceful”, and who “helps other in a crisis”. Mom-Daughter love. Snyder notes a certain mother and daughter resemblance when Joyce tells him and another teacher (?) not to try to flee from the safe room she has put them in for safe keeping.

Revelations: Angel and Spike know one another. Angel, in fact, is Spike’s “sire”. What’s a “sire” Xander asks? We will find out in future episodes of Buffy. Spike calls Angel an “Uncle Tom” and “Angelus” and seems to think Angel is “housebroken”. We will find out why in future episodes of Buffy. Spike’s “[f]rom now on we’re gonna have a little less ritual and a little more fun around here". Actually, there’s going to be a lot less vampire ritual and a lot more vampire fun in the Buffy episodes to come. The discussion between the Chief of Police and Principal Snyder at the end of act four indicates that they know about vampires. Their cover story? The “usual story…gang related, PCP…”. This foreshadows what is revealed about Snyder in the final episode of season two “Becoming”.

Themes: Spike, of all people, sums up one of the themes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “[a] Slayer with family and friends. That sure as hell wasn’t in the brochure”.

Mise-en-scene: I love how Buffy’s melancholy mental attitude toward being a Slayer is portrayed through words—“I have a job”—and visuals—the shot of holy water and stakes in her drawer as she puts her brush away. Elegant. Note the blue tint of the sunlight in the Warehouse, the sunlight Spike eventually kills the “Annoying One” in.

Camera Work: Love the way the camera pans across Dru’s dolls. “School Hard” was directed by John Kretchmer.

Lighting: The dark colour scheme of Buffy continues to follow in the footsteps of the template put in place by Charles Martin Smith who directed the first episode of Buffy. Does Buffy use natural sources of light only?

Music: “School Hard” continues to move more and more in the direction of classic Hollywood film scores. The original music for this episode was composed by Shawn K. Clement and Sean Murray and is, in my opinion, an improvement on what has come before.

Clothes: Not taken with the blue and white (or lighter blue) shirt Xander has on in the teaser. Note, however, that blue is an important colour in the Buffyverse.

Personal Hygiene: Buffy complains about conditioner while having problems brushing her hair.

Foreign Accents: First appearance of the French language in Buffy. It will reappear in Buffy’s dream in “Surprise” in season two and in “Restless” in season four.

Popular Culture: The title is, of course, a reference to Die Hard, an action adventure film set in a skyscraper that has been taken over by “terrorists” and which stars Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman.

The Chorus: I love this David Greenwalt penned episode of a Whedon-Greenwalt story. Its got lots of great Buffy humour, lots of Buffy wit (“Big Ugly: Slayer. Buffy” Slayee”; “Giles: Sounds a little unorthodox. Buffy: Maybe he’s reform”), lots of Xander wit (“That’s the one she CAN bring home to mother”), lots of Spike wit (“I’m a veal kind of guy”, “People still fall for that Anne Rice routine?”), lots of action, adventure, drama, and, of course, lots of Spike and Dru, two of the most beloved characters in the Buffyverse. What more can one ask for?

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