Friday, February 4, 2011

Buffy Blog: "What's My Line"

Previously on Buffy: There is a reference to “Teacher’s Pet” and Xander’s thing for “preying mantis lady”. Jonathan (“Hostage Kid” in the end credits) is once again in danger as the Order of Taraka policewoman takes him hostage for a moment after she tries and fails to shoot Buffy. The book that was stolen from the library in “Lie to Me” by one of Spike’s minions is a book written by the excommunicated Catholic and mathematician du Lac. The book, says Spike, is supposed to contain the cure that will restore Drusilla to full strength. Kendra speculates that Buffy was a cheerleader leading Giles to recall what transpired in “The Witch”.

Welcome to the Buffyverse: “What’s My Line” is Marti Noxon’s first script. She co-wrote part one with Howard Gordon, a Beauty and the Beast and X-Files alum. Noxon would go on to become one of Buffy’s major writers along with Whedon, David Greenwalt, David Fury, Doug Petrie, Jane Espenson, Drew Greenberg, Drew Goddard, Rebecca Rand Kirschner, and Steven DeKnight. Willy, the owner of a bar patronized by demons, and who will be pumped for information by the Scoobies on several occasions in the future, makes his first appearance in Buffy. He will be back in seasons three and four

Vampire Lore: The du Lac book is written in code and requires a “key” to decode it. The “key” turns out to be the du Lac cross which is buried with du Lac in his old worldishy crypt in one of Sunnydale’s many cemeteries. Spike sends a couple of vamps, including intellectual vamp Dalton, to retrieve it from the crypt. Dalton, thanks to the second vamp who fights Buffy at the crypt, escapes from the Buffster and brings the book back to Spike. The book, as Giles discovers, contains rituals and spells that “reap unspeakable evil” and allow one to restore a weak and sick vampire, like Drusilla notes Willow, to health. Note that Angel is weakened by the sun as it moves closer and closer to him through the window of the locked storage area at Willy’s in which Kendra has locked him.

Tarot Magic: Dru reads the future in tarot cards. When Spike decides to hire the Order of Taraka to eliminate the Slayer Dru sees the first three devotees of the order who will come to kill Buffy: a one eyed man, a worm demon, and a lurking tiger, in her cards. Dru is also able to see from the cards that Angel, her sire, is the cure for her illness just after Dalton discovers it by using the du Lac cross key to decipher du Lac’s book.

Order of Taraka: The Order of Taraka is a society of deadly assassins that dates back to the time of the biblical King Solomon. Once the Order takes on an assassination they do not stop until the job is done. We meet three members of the society in “What’s My Line”. The first member of the society we meet is the one eyed man. He is the first to try to kill Buffy. He tries to kill the Slayer at an ice rink that Angel has invited Buffy to, to skate with him at. Buffy, with Angel’s help, dispatches him by lifting her foot to his throat and slicing it with her skate. The second devotee, worm demon man Norman Pfister, kills Buffy’s neighbour and awaits her return home. Later he will attack Cordy (believing her to be the Slayer) and Xander in Buffy’s house. We viewers are manipulated into believing that Kendra is Order of Taraka devotee number three since she watches while Buffy kills the one eyed man and then kisses Angel at the ice rink. Kendra as lurking feline tarot card. Later we learn that the third assassin is actually disguised as a policewoman at Sunnydale High School. She tries to kill Buffy during a Career Fair meeting for potential law enforcement employees, the career the computer spits out for Buffy after she fills out a questionnaire, at Sunnydale High.

Slayer Lore: When one Slayer dies another is called to take her place. When Buffy died in “Prophecy Girl” Kendra was called as the new Slayer. Slayers are supposed to keep their identity secret, not have friends, and live a life of Slayer asceticism under the oversight of their Watcher. There is a slayer handbook. When Buffy asks why she didn’t get a copy Giles responds that “After meeting you, Buffy, I was quite sure the handbook would be of no use in your case.”

Kendra’s Ethnicity: Apparently, the creative team of Buffy had no specific ethnicity in mind for Kendra and it was only when they hired Bianca Lawson to play the part—she had earlier tried out for one of the main characters of the programme—that they made her Jamaican after they asked her what accents she could do. In fact, they made her a Jamaican who hails from one particular Jamaican dialect sub-community (Marti Noxon, Commentary: “What’s My Line, Part 1”, Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Complete Second season on DVD and Golden and Holder; Watcher’s Guide, p. 232).

Racism in What’s My Line?: For Lynne Edwards (Edwards; “Slaying in Black and White: Kendra as Tragic Mulatta in Buffy” in Rhonda Wilcox and David Lavery (eds.); Fighting the Forces) Buffy’s portrayal of the Jamaican Vampire Slayer Kendra draws on the tragic mulatta myth in which a fair skinned black women, usually of mixed racial heritage, tries to pass for white with tragic consequences, death in Kendra’s case, and is, for this reason, according to Edwards, racist.

In her essay Edwards makes much racist hay out of Buffy’s behaviour toward Kendra when she first arrives. It is, of course, true that Buffy does react negatively to Kendra during their get to know you phase in “What’s My Line” just as she reacts negatively to Faith later on (“Faith, Hope, and Trick”). Buffy’s reaction, however, is the product of teenage petty jealousies rather than of racism.

Buffy definitely has her flaws as do all the Scoobies. One of these is her rather “high schoolish” reaction to Kendra when she first meets her. But then I suppose we shouldn’t forget that Buffy is a high school teen.

In What’s My Line” Buffy is having a difficult time coming to grips with the fact that she is no longer the only “Chosen One”. She sees Kendra as Giles the second generation (“She-Giles”) and is jealous of the attention she receives from him. To Buffy, Kendra is the by the Watcher’s book Slayer type that she has always refused to be.

But Buffy is not the only Slayer whose first impressions are negative ones. When Kendra sees Buffy kissing Angel she assumes that Buffy too is a vampire and sets out to do what any good Slayer should do, slay vampires. Kendra also reacts in a knee-jerk stuffy Slayer way to the Scoobies. She is appalled that Giles allows Buffy to have friends who help her to fight the forces: “and you allow this, sir” she asks Giles. To her a Slayer always fights alone and always fights unknown.

Soon things change, however. Buffy gets over her jealousies and Kendra lets her manichean and by the Watcher’s book guards down and soon the Slayers are comparing notes. And as they do this they begin to bond, though not without degree of underlying competitiveness. Kendra thinks that Buffy is too emotional while Buffy finds Kendra too unemotional. To make her point about emotions Buffy tells Kendra that although she is technically a better fighter than Buffy, there is no way she could defeat her in a fight. “My anger gives me power”, explains the Buffster . Though Kendra’s anger grows as a result of this goading she soon gets the point—anger does indeed give a Slayer power. Kendra returns the favour when she uses her Slayer power to save Buffy from an assassination attempt by one of a group of assassins (the Order of Taraka) who have been sent by Spike to kill her.

Kendra will, by the way, get her anger on in act eight of the episode when an Order of Taraka devotee masquerading as a policewoman tears Kendra’s shirt with her knife while in the heat of the final battle of “What’s My Line”. Kendra responds to the tearing of her shirt by saying ,“That's my favorite shirt. (thinks) That's my only shirt!”. The script describes Kendra as being “pissed” that her only shirt has been damaged. Kendra, in other words, is using her emotions to “give her power” in the fight against policewoman.

Themes: Buffy continues to struggle with whether to be a normal girl or a Slayer. “I want to lead a normal life like I had before”, Buffy says to Willow at one point in the episode. Buffy tells Willow that she is thinking about letting Kendra take over her job. At the end of the episode (act eight) Kendra tells Buffy that being a Slayer is not a job rather it is who she and Buffy are. So the answer to the question “what’s my (Buffy’s) line is, I am Buffy the Slayer. Buffy is a Slayer who has friends who help her, help her survive, and bring her back from the dead. As Spike said in “School Hard”, “A Slayer with family and friends. That sure as hell wasn't in the brochure.” Having family and friends is one of the things makes Buffy the Vampire Slayer different from Kendra the Vampire Slayer.

High School Rituals: This time it is Career Week or the Career Fair. The Scoobies take a questionnaire to ascertain what their likely career will be. Buffy’s is law enforcement or environmental design (she said yes to the question of whether she liked shrubs or not), Xander’s is prison guard, and Cordy’s is personal shopper or motivational speaker. Willow’s name isn’t on the this is your career list. It turns out that a prominent computer software company has its eye on Willow and has been “following” her (and Oz) for some time as she finds out when two “suit m[e]n” pull her into a guarded part of the area in Sunnydale High were Career Week is being held and offer her canape. Buffy tells Willow that her “career”, is “mootsville”. Her job has already been determined. She is the Slayer.

I Hate My High School Principal: “What’s My Line” contains the first verbal battle, an unequal verbal battle, between Principal Snyder and Xander. We will see another in the fourth season episode “Restless”.

Love in Bloom?: Oz finally finds out who that girl is. Willow and Oz finally meet in the “rabbit hole” set up by the computer software company. When Buffy and Willow are in the Career Fair lounge Buffy tells Willow that “that guy (Oz) over there is checking you out”. Oz comes over to talk to Willow. Buffy goes to the Law Enforcement personnel booth. The policewoman at the booth asks those there who Buffy Summers is. Buffy raised her hand. Policewoman pulls out a gun and tries to shoot Buffy. One of the bullets she shoots at Buffy hits Oz who jumps in front of Willow. In the basement at Buffy’s house to which Cordy and Xander have fled from worm demon “man” Norman Pfister, Cordy’s and Xander’s verbal sparring in the basement turns into their first kiss, a kiss that is underlined by wonderfully over the top and thus humourous ultra romantic music.

The Ending: Note how in the ending of the episode Willow and Oz are paired and their first discussion about animal crackers and French animal cracker monkey’s with clothes takes place (this will be referenced in “Surprise/Innocence” later in season two), Cordy and Xander are paired and their verbal sparring once again leads to a kiss and, once again, over the top romantic music, and Buffy and Kendra are paired and they express a kind of love and mutual respect for each other. Both Buffy and Kendra have learned something about who they are from each other. Kendra is a bit less of a by the book Slayer and both have learned that a Slayer, “a freak”, is who they are. Then there is the last pairing of the episode as a renewed Drusilla picks up an injured Spike . Narratively elegant.

Slayer on Slayer Action: “What’s My Line” contains the first Slayer versus Slayer fight but not the last as we will see in season three, season four, and, to a lesser extent, in season seven.

Laugh Out Loud: Buffy calls Angel her “cradle robbing creature of the night boyfriend” at one point in “What’s My Line”. Were viewers also wondering about the age difference between the 240 year old plus Angel and teenager Buffy?

Male on Male Action: When Willy asks Spike what he is going to do with Angel Spike responds “I'm thinking - maybe dinner and a movie. I don't want to rush into anything. I've been hurt, you know.” Is Spike simply engaging in his patented humour or did Angel and Spike have a relationship sometime in the past?

Bringing the S&M: Dru tortures Angel viciously with holy water while recounting fragments of what Angel did to her family.

Sexual Tension thy name is Angel, Spike, and Dru: There is a lot of sexual tension between Angel, Spike, and Dru. Dru’s torturing of Angel seems like bit of S&M vampire lovemaking in many ways. Dru’s response to Angel’s pulling of Spike’s chain seems to suggest that they, Dru and Angel, had some sort of sexual relationship in the past. Spike’s jealously surfaces, as a result, and Spike almost kills Angel. Angel seems to be goading him to do just this. Anyway, we will see why there is so much sexual tension in this triangle in future episodes of Buffy and Angel. By the way, Dru calls Angel a “bad dog” in "What's My Line". Vamp Willow will call the Angel she plays with (tortures) a “pony” in “The Wish”.

Sunnydale: There are 43 churches in small town Sunnydale.

Character: Willy: Willy is as Buffy calls him a “sleazoid”. He sells Angel to Spike. He tells Buffy and Kendra that he has a friend who can take tasteful high-class nude art photographs of them both. Yeah, sure. Kendra is less impulsive than Buffy. Before she takes any action she wants to return to the Watcher. Kendra also has a “John Wayne” side“, notes Buffy, an us Slayer’s good, them vampires, including Angel, bad mentality. Kendra is tongue tied around boys. Spike is driven to steal the du Lac book from Giles, obtain the du Lac cross, and to get Angel all out of love for his “black goddess” Drusilla. Xander seems taken with yet another Slayer, Kendra. Willow has frog phobia (“Don’t warn the tadpoles”).

Buffy the Superhero: Buffy tells the Scoobies that Spike is going down because “nobody messes with my boyfriend”.

Pacing: I love how Buffy slowly but surely builds up tension. Classic old school filmmaking.

Cinematography: Note the reds of Spike’s shirt and Willy’s shirt. Red, blood, vampires.

Sets: Angel’s apartment (in a utility or some industrial building) is very old worldishy and is filled with high art objects and more traditional furnishings. Willy's has that sleazy tavern look.

Music: I like the classical Gothic strings in this episode. The score was written by Shawn Clement and Sean Murray.

Acting: “What’s My Line” makes nice use of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s skating skills. Gellar had been skating since childhood.

Popular Culture: There are a ton of popular culture references in “What’s My Line”. Here are a few. There are references to the Wizard of Oz, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (“Pink Ranger”), the Beatles “I am the Walrus”, actor Molly Ringwald, teen film director John Hughes, and the popular game show in which a panel had to guess the occupations of contestants “What’s My Line” (CBS, 1950-1967, syndicated, 1968-1975).

The Chorus: And the hits just keep on coming. Totally awesome moment: when Kendra responds to Buffy’s “Who the hell are you” by telling Buffy that “I am Kendra, the vampire slayer”. Another totally awesome moment: the shot of Kendra and Buffy in Slayer fighting mode. Yet another totally awesome moment: Tag team Slayer action in the final battle between the Scoobies and Spike and his minions at the abandoned church in act 8 of “What’s My Line”.

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