Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Buffy Blog: "The Dark Age"

Previously on Buffy: Ethan’s back after his first appearance in “Halloween”. It will not be his last appearance. Buffy and Ethan reference the “be careful what you wish for[s]” of “Halloween”. Dark Giles is back as well and is once again brutalizing Ethan. The library book cage serves as a jail/gaol for the second time.

“The Dark Age” is a Giles episode. It is an episode that fills in some of the blanks about Giles that we learned about in the episode “Halloween”. Cordy asks the question all of us asked in “Halloween”, “Uh why did he (Ethan) call him Ripper?”. In “The Dark Age” we find out why Ethan calls Giles “Ripper”.

In “The Dark Age” we learn that at the age of 21 Giles dropped out of Oxford, where he was studying history by day and the occult by night. “I hated it”, he tells Buffy, “[t]he tedious grind of study, the... overwhelming pressure of my destiny.” (can you say shades of Buffy?). He moved to London where he “fell in with the worst crowd”, Randall, Thomas Sutcliff, Deirdre Page, Phiip Henry, Ethan Rayne. There Giles and the others practiced “magicks”, “small stuff for pleasure and gain” and Giles “created” Eyghon.

Monster of the Week: Eyghon was, as I noted, “created by Giles. Giles explains to Buffy how he, with the help of the others, created Eyghon, “the Sleepwalker”. “One of us would, um... (nervously pours a drink) go into a deep sleep, and the others would, uh, summon him. It was an extraordinary high! (smiles nervously) God, we were fools. Buffy: You couldn't control it. Giles: One of us, Randall, he lost control. Eyghon took him whole. We tried to exorcise the demon from Randall, but it killed him. No. We killed him. We thought we were free of the demon after that. But now he's back. And one by one, he will kill us all.”

Bringing the Tragedy: Jenny’s possession by Eyghon introduces her to the darker, the “Ripper”, side of Giles. As a result the Jenny/Giles relationship, which sees some Jenny/Giles kissage and seemed about to be consummated in a “stay[ing] in weekend” during which Jenny intends to see how much she can make Giles “squirm”, takes one, two, three, or more steps backward as Jenny backs away from Giles’s loving touch at the end of the episode. Giles’s backstory. Angel’s “I've had a demon inside me for a couple hundred years... (exhales)…”

Metaphors: Giles’s sixties experiments with Eyghon are metaphors for drug use and abuse. This concern with drug use will make appearances throughout Buffy, Willow’s addiction to magicks is another example.

Themes: One of the main themes of “The Dark Age” is the similarity between adult Giles and teenage Buffy. As Buffy discovers over the course of “The Dark Age” Giles is not only an “adult” but, like her he is a “human”. Like Buffy, Giles suffered under his destiny as Watcher just as she suffers under her destiny as Slayer. Buffy recognizes that Giles and she also share something else: they really don’t have a choice as to whether to follow their “destiny”. All of the Scoobies and the Fang Gang will experience the hard truths of becoming an adult in later seasons of Buffy and Angel. They will all become a bit like Giles, somewhat damaged goods, yes, but damaged men and women who still fight the good fight. The damaged man motif in Whedon’s work, by the way, almost certainly derives from the influence on him of literary artists like Jane Austen and film auteurs like Anthony Mann. Interestingly, Whedon’s teacher at Wesleyan University, Jeannine Basinger, wrote the only English language monograph on Mann (Jeannie Basinger; Anthony Mann (CT: Wesleyan University Press, new and expanded edition, 2007).

Mise-en-scene: Giles’s dream seems to have the colour bled out of it a bit. Note the jump cuts in Giles’s dream. Note that there are many less edits in the scenes that surround the dreams. Note the jarring almost vertigo like music that is used in Giles’s dreamscapes (an attempt to capture the drug experience?). Note how un-Giles the Giles Buffy comes to see at his apartment looks (unshaven, a bit drunk) and acts (absent minded, short). Note that Giles’s apartment is very “old world”. Note the blues in this episode, a Buffy tradition. Note the green surrounding Jenny’s/Eyghon’s dark outline as she enters Ethan’s looking for Ethan.

Character: Buffy: Buffy has her first “fight” with Ethan. She hits him for the first time. It will not be the last time. Buffy goes into leader mode after Giles refuses to tell her anything about what is going on after she asks him point blank. I love take charge Buffy.

Willow: Willow goes into research mode. It is Willow who figures out what is going on. It is Willow who figures out how to get rid of Eyghon—force him into the undead Angel. It is also Willow who puts an end to the usual Cordy-Xander sniping by telling both Cordy and Xander to get back to their research work—“Our friends are in trouble”—or to get the “hell out of my library”. I love generalissimo Willow. The importance of friends and friends as “family” is a central theme of Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse.

Cordy: Cordy is in full fledged Scooby mode (“What about me? I care about Giles”, she asks Willow hoping to get a research assignment from her) and helps figure out what is going on with Giles. She speculates, however, that what she goes through during her Scooby work may traumatize her so much that she will have to be in therapy until she is 30.

Giles: Eyghon claims that the its got to be “right” and “proper” Giles, a Giles that existed even during his dark days in London apparently (Ethan makes a similar observation in “Halloween”), is like a “woman”. The partial feminisation of males in Buffy?

Love the Language: Xander: “Pretty brill Will” referencing Willow’s plan to get rid of Eyghon by having him/her/it jump into Angel.

History Reference: The title is a reference to that historical period after the fall of Rome that is commonly seen as a “dark age”, a counterpoint to the glories of Classical Greece and Rome. Giles was a student of history at Oxford.

Popular Culture: Reference to the Scottish pop band the Bay City Rollers (“Now that’s music”, says Giles to Buffy). The photo of Giles in leather jacket with bass guitar is actually a photo of Sid Vicious, the controversial bassist of the Sex Pistols, with Giles head attached. Spike, as we will see, is a fan of at least one Sid Vicious tune. Buffy references Billy Wilder’s Lost Weekend, a film about a man (Ray Milland) addicted to alcohol. Appropriate reference methinks.

The Chorus: “The Dark Age” is yet another seminal episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It is the first of many backstory episodes of Buffy, backstory episodes that fill in the blanks about the major characters that populate the Buffyverse. Giles’s backstory of youthful indiscretions is shown through Giles’s dreams brought on by the resurrection Eyghon.

Foreshadowings: Ethan once again escapes. This is not the last time he will show up in Sunnydale or be a thorn in Giles’s side.

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