Friday, March 11, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Becoming"

“Becoming”, written and directed by Buffy’s creator Joss Whedon, is full of drama, tragedy, romance, romantic tragedy, betrayal, sadness, pitched battles and sword fights (got to have sword fights, says Whedon in an interview). It is a season ending episode that answers some questions, keeps others open, and raises others some of which will be addressed in season three.

“Becoming” brings the big bad arc of season two, the arc that pitted the Scoobies against Dru and Spike and eventually Angelus, to an end, at least for the moment.
Dru hears whispers that something dreadful has come to Sunnydale. It is Acathla, the demon of the week, who once tried to suck the world in to hell. Dru and Angel, who have taken Acathla from the Sunnydale Museum, intend to revive the demon and suck the world into hell.

Angel and Dru, however, don’t know how to properly perform the ritual to revive Acathla. They turn to an “old friend” to help them. Angel and Dru send a message to Buffy, a vampiress who walks into Buffy’s class at Sunnydale High telling Buffy to meet Angel at the cemetery for a final showdown between the two just before she bursts into flames. Buffy rises to the bait. Leaving Kendra, who has arrived in Sunnydale after her Watcher informs her, as he did in “What’s My Line”, that a “dark power” is about to rise in the city over the hellmouth, Buffy goes to the final showdown with Angel at the cemetery. As Angel and Buffy fight Dru and her minions attack the library breaking Xander’s arm, forcing Cordy to flee, pinning a now unconscious Willow under a bookshelf, killing Kendra, and kidnapping Giles. Angel taunts Buffy telling her that she always falls for the same trap—she fell for a similar ruse in “When She Was Bad”.

After Buffy reaches the library the police arrive. Principal Snyder arrives telling the police that if there is trouble she’s (Buffy) is behind it. The police try to arrest Buffy but our Slayer escapes and heads to the hospital to see how Xander, Willow, Cordy, and Giles are. It is then that Buffy, Xander, and Cordy realise that Giles is missing. Soon Buffy learns from Spike, who doesn’t want to see Angel and Dru end human life as we know it and so joins with Buffy to stop them, that Angel has Giles.

By the end of “Becoming” some things that have been brewing throughout season one and season two are, at least to some extent, wrapped up. A number of questions still remain unanswered, however. Spike and Dru have left Sunnydale much like they entered it. Spike takes Dru’s breath away, literally and he and the unconscious Dru drive out of town in Spike’s black car. Will they be back?

Angel has been killed by Buffy in order to close the vortex Angel has set in motion thanks to performing a revivification ritual on Acathla and pulling out the sword of the knight who slew him. Buffy has to kill Angel despite the fact that Willow—Willow and Buffy find Jenny’s disc with the re-ensoulment ritual on it—has successfully restored Angel’s soul. Buffy kisses Angel and tells her to close his eyes just as Darla told Angel to close his eyes when she turned him from a human into a vampire. But while Darla’s siring of Angel had a sexual quality to it—she bites Angel then uses her fingernail to draw blood from just above her breasts—Buffy’s telling Angel to close his eyes has a romantic true love quality to it. Then she kills him shutting down Acathla’s vortex in the process. Will he return from hell?

The Scoobies are all physically, emotionally, or physically and emotionally exhausted and injured and Buffy, after being told by Joyce not to return home if she leaves the house to “save the world”, has left Sunnydale by bus. And then there is that whole thing between Principal Snyder and the Chief of Police: why is Snyder trying to keep the supernatural goings on of Sunnydale secret and why has Snyder been hired the mayor who Snyder leaves a message for in this episode, a message which seems to suggest that Snyder is setting Buffy up for a murder she did not commit? Why is the mayor interested in Buffy?

Destiny, Angel’s and Buffy’s destiny, comes up again and again in “Becoming”. In this episode we learn much about Angel’s back story. We learn that he was “turned” by Darla, his “sire”, in Galway in Ireland in 1753. Darla, by the way, is the very image of “coiffed” girl in “Halloween”. We learn that the human Angel, when he had cash, frequented a tavern and chased the girls. We learn, in other words, that he was a rake. We learn more about the Angel’s penchant for psychological torture as he see him masquerading as a priest to whom the human Drusilla, concerned about her visions, confesses. Angel calls her a “Devil child”, a “spawn of Satan”. We learn more about the gypsy curse that re-ensouled Angel. We learn that Angel eventually made his way to America and that a “good” demon named Whistler has taken him to Hemery High in LA to see a Buffy who is just about learn that she is the Slayer, the Chosen One. Angel falls in love with her from afar and decides to help the Slayer. We learn from Whistler that fighting against Acathla was part of Angel’s “destiny”. Thanks to Buffy, however, Angel’s destiny has changed.

Buffy’s destiny is to be a Slayer. And this time when confronted by Joyce who tells her that she needs help, psychological help, and that if she leaves the house to fulfill her Slayer destiny she is not welcome again in her house, Buffy chooses her Slayer duty, this time without hesitating, just like she eventually chose her Slayer destiny in “Prophecy Girl”. So much of season one and season two has been leading up to this point, the point when Buffy, stripped of family, lover, friends, and school (Snyder finally manages to do what he has been wanting to do since “Puppet Show”, expel Buffy) chooses to be a Slayer.

By choosing to become Slayer Buffy gives up everything. Whistler, at one point, asks Buffy what she is prepared to give up and tells her that she is always by herself. Buffy responds by telling him that she has “nothing left to loose”. During the sword fight between Buffy and Angel, Angel says to a Buffy, seemingly about to suffer death at the hands of Angel, “Now that's everything, huh? No weapons... No friends... No hope. Take all that away... and what's left?” Buffy stopping Angel’s sword thrust by grasping it between her two hands says, “Me”. The Slayer who is now without friends and family goes on to defeat Angel though with a little help from Spike who helps Buffy in exchange for Dru’s life and leaving Sunnydale. Slayer’s historically as we know and as Kendra tells us in “What’s My Line”, generally fight alone. By the way, even though Buffy is a Slayer with friends and family being a Slayer as Buffy she tells Joyce during their confrontation, is “lonely”.

Angel’s Gaze: Angel is still stalking Buffy and watching her. In “Passion” Angel gazes at her through the windows (film or TV screens?) of Buffy’s house (Joss’s "Rear Window" moment?). In “Becoming” Angel watches Buffy fight vamps at a local Sunnydale cemetery. By the way, we see Angel stalking Drusilla as he masquerades as a priest taking confession. At the end of the scene he raises his hand to the screen that separates him and Dru in the confession booth (another Rear Window moment?).

Parallelism: Darla used her fingernail to draw blood from above her breasts to turn Angel from human into vampire. Dru kills Kendra by using her fingernails to slice Kendra’s throat. What is it with female vamps and fingernails? Drusilla hypnotises Kendra before she kills her. This recalls the Master killing Buffy by hypnosis in season one’s “Prophecy Girl”. Drusilla hypnotises Giles making him believe she is Jenny Calendar in order to obtain information on how Angel can revive Acathla and suck the world into hell. The pain. The horror.

Despite the similarities between the death of Buffy in “Prophecy Girl” and Kendra in “Becoming”, there are also several important differences in Buffy’s death through hypnosis and Kendra’s. Xander saves Buffy’s life after the Master gets all hypnotic with her and she drowns—emphasising how friends are essential to a Slayer’s survival. Buffy manages to defeat the Master’s second attempt to hypnotise her because her first encounter with the Master. Kendra, on the other hand, is unable to resist the power of Drusilla’s hypnosis and dies fighting at the side of the Scoobies after Buffy has once again been tricked into solo action (“Becoming, Part 1”, cf. her actions in “When She Was Bad”). It is worth noting that each time Buffy is bitten by a powerful vampire—specifically the Master, Angel, and Dracula—Buffy grows in power and knowledge.

Previously on Buffy:
Whistler calls a vampire with a soul “poignant”. Giles referred to it as “poetic in a maudlin sort of way” in “Out of Mind, Out of Sight”.

When Jenny buys an Orb of Thesulah from the magic shop in “Passion” the proprietor said that he sold some as paperweights to “new agers”. Giles has been using an Orb of Thesulah as a paperweight.

The Buffy we see before she is told she is a Slayer is much like Cordy. She even has her own Cordettes (the Buffettes?).

The detective who investigated Buffy’s killing of Ted is back and interviews Joyce about the death of Kendra and the injury of Xander and Will. “Your daughter”, he reminds her, “has a history of violence”.

Xander expresses his love for a comatose Willow who comes out of her coma just after his declaration. Willow, however, awakes and utters “Oz”. It is too late for Willow and Xander.

Xander lies to Buffy telling her that Willow told her to kick Angel’s ass rather than what she actually told Xander to tell her, that she was going to try the restoration spell again. Buffy will learn that Xander lied to her in season seven.

It’s the Blood: It is Angel’s own blood which allows him to remove the sword that killed Acathla and set in motion Acathla’s swallowing of the world.

The scene where Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles argue over whether to re-ensoul Angel. Xander, not surprisingly given his past tense relationship with Angel, recalls that Angel viciously killed Jenny and that he should be killed not re-ensouled. Does Xander not make a distinction between Angel and Angelus? Giles argues that “curing” Angel was Jenny’s last wish. Buffy says that what happened to Angel was not his fault. I love the way Willow, angry at Xander for his outburst, stares the Xandman down. The acting in this wonderful scene is intense and superb. This is ensemble television at its best

Spike’s wonderful monologue: “We like to talk big. (indicates himself) Vampires do. 'I'm going to destroy the world.' (looks at the officer) That's just tough guy talk. (steps over to the car) Strutting around with your friends over a pint of blood. (sits on the hood) The truth is, I like this world. (pulls the cigarette pack from the officer's shirt pocket) You've got... dog racing, Manchester United. (pulls one out and drops the pack on the officer) And you've got people. (exhales) Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs. It's all right here. (lights the cigarette and takes a drag) But then someone comes along with a vision. With a real... (exhales) passion for destruction. (takes another drag and looks at Buffy) Angel could pull it off. Goodbye, Piccadilly. Farewell, Leicester Bloody Square. You know what I'm saying?

The wonderful scene between Joyce and Spike: “Cut to the living room. The silence is deafening. Spike looks around some more. Then Joyce has a spark of recognition on her face and looks over at Spike. Joyce: Have we met? Spike: (faces her) Um... you hit me with an ax one time. Remember? (makes an ax-holding gesture) Uh, 'get the hell away from my daughter.' (lowers his arms) Joyce: Oh. She lets out a little chuckle. Spike sighs with boredom. James Marsters and Kristine Sutherland had a great chemistry as we see here and in future Joyce-Spike scenes. Shout out to “School Hard”.

Spike recognizing that his joy in Dru bagging a Slayer isn’t shared by Buffy. Spike, in other words, can see things from other perspectives.

Mothers and Daughters: Joyce immediately feels bad about telling Buffy not to return to the house if she goes out to save the world. This scene, by the way, parallels the scene in “Prophecy Girl” where Joyce grounds Buffy and Buffy sneaks behind her back to go and stop the apocalypse. Buffy, in other words, is much more comfortable in her Slayer skin.

Playing with Genre: Whistler’s narration in “Belonging” just like Angel’s in “Passion” has a lot of the noir in it.

Mise-en-scene: The scenes in Ireland and New York City were filmed on a studio set, a first for Buffy. Note how Angel and Whistler go from the dark and wet noir streets of New York City to the bright sunshine days of Los Angeles.

Music: Note the wonderful use of the Buffy/Angel and Giles/Jenny themes.

References: There is a reference to Alfalfa of the “Little Rascals”. Buffy confuses him and Acathla. There is a reference to Al Franken, a comedian, a Saturday Night Live writer, a host of the liberal talk radio network Air America (now defunct), and presently a US senator from the state of Minnesota.

Watch Your Tongue: Giles calls Angel a “pillock”, originally slang for penis but now for fool or idiot.

Breaking the Fourth Wall: Xander’s re-enactment of Buffy’s killing of two vamps in the teaser, a re-enactment Oz finds riveting but unclear in its themes. Oz saying he missed some of the story and needs to be caught up. Drusilla’s remark that her continuing kissing of Giles after she has gotten the information Angel wanted from him was the result of her being “in the moment”.

The Chorus: Eyes watered up. I need a hug just like the Grr Argh monster at the end of this episode. Incredibly powerful television. What a great way to end season two. What brilliant television.

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