Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Go Fish"

“Go Fish”, the first script penned by David Fury, who would go on to become one of Buffy’s regular writers in season three, and Elin Hampton (the two are married), is Buffy doing Creature of the Black Lagoon, a 1954 American science fiction horror film that is kind of a fish monster version of King Kong. Cordy mistakenly refers to the film as the Creature from the Blue Lagoon. Xander, ever pop cult guy, corrects Cordy noting that it is the creature from the Black Lagoon and that the creature from the Blue Lagoon was Brooke Shields, the female lead in the romantic tween film The Blue Lagoon.

“Go Fish” draws on a long tradition in Hollywood and foreign cinema, a tradition in which a human or an animal is transformed into a monster thanks to some kind of government or scientific “accident”. Think Gojira (Japan, 1954) in which radioactivity lets loose a monster on Tokyo. Think Them (US, 1954) in which radiation transforms tiny ants into monstrous ants who begin to attack human beings. In “Go Fish' it is the science of genetic manipulation that transforms humans into monsters. Sunnydale High School’s swimming coach learns of East Germany’s attempt to create the perfect swimmer through genetic manipulation and manages, thanks to “steroids” in the steam in the swim team steam room, to turn Sunnydale High’s swim team into one of the best in the state of California. This being post World War II horror and Buffy, however, this genetic manipulation slowly but surely turns Sunnydale’s best swimmers into human-fish creatures yearning to return home to the sea. “Go Fish”, is, in some ways, a kind of a reverse Gojira. In Gojira Gojira (Godzilla) comes from the sea. In “Go Fish” the human monsters return to their sea home.

“Go Fish” revolves around the ritual and hierarchical world of high school. The episode begins with a party at the beach to celebrate a recent victory by the Sunnydale High School swim team. Buffy, Willow, and Xander attend. So does Jonathan who is bullied and humiliated by a member of the swim team. It is Buffy again to the rescue as she pulls the macho jock off Jonathan. Jonathan, like Xander in “Phases” Jonathan is not particularly happy that Buffy has emasculated him in front of everyone, however. As Willow learns later in the episode when she interrogates Jonathan (not the last time she will do this) Jonathan gets his revenge by peeing in the pool.

This being high school the swim team, now that they are having success, get preferential treatment at SHS. Principal Snyder asks Willow to review one member of the swim teams computer class grades to see if he deserves a D rather than an F. Xander learns that the cafeteria is open to members of the swim team at all hours. Buffy almost becomes another of the perks of Sunnydale High’s as Cameron locks his car door intending to make out with her. Buffy responds by slamming Cam's face into the steering wheel, an act seen by Principal Snyder.

Once again males, this time jock males, come in for a good deal criticism in Buffy. Sunnydale High’s swim jocks are portrayed as testosterone driven Neanderthals who feel entitled to virtually everything, including women, and who mouth the tired clichés of misogynous macho types claiming that what women wear contributes to their inability to keep their sexual id in check.

While the broader arc of season two, Buffy and the Scoobies versus the big bads of Angel, Dru, and Spike, is largely absent in “Go Fish” Angel does make a brief appearance. When Gage exists the Bronze after a conversation with Buffy (I am a swim groupie no you are in danger claims Buffy) he complains about what a “wacko bitch” Buffy is. Angel overhears Gage’s complaints and guesses that the reason for Gage’s outburst is Buffy. He tells Gage that Buffy was the biggest mistake of his life. Angel proceeds to bite Gage but backs off as Buffy comes to Gage’s aid spitting out the blood he has sucked out of Gage. This is the first time in “Go Fish” that we the viewer suspect that it is not a creature feeding on the swim team, as we have been lead to believe, instead the disappearance of Sunnydale’s swim team may be in the blood (there’s that blood again) of the swim team itself. And it is the first time that Buffy suspects that something else is going on. She guesses “steroids”.

One more note about David Fury. After writing for Buffy and Angel Fury would go on to write for Lost and 24. One of Fury’s scripts for Lost was the season one episode “Walkabout”, the first backstory episode of Lost.

The Chorus: “Go Fish” is not one of my favourite episodes of Buffy. That said, there are several things I like about the episode. When Nurse Greenliegh is pushed into the sewer by Coach Marin we see her at one point through the grate that Marin is putting back down on the floor. The grate gives one the sense that Greenliegh is trapped and caged. And she is. She is trapped in the sewer and is about to be partially eaten by the creatures in Sunnydale’s sewers. Nice direction by David Semel. In general I like the way Buffy plays with, blends, and bends traditional film genres. “Go Fish” does a lot of this.

One more thing: Xander saves Buffy, who Coach Marin has dropped into the same sewer that he dropped Nurse Greenliegh so Buffy can provide for their sexual needs, yet again. This is becoming something of a common occurrence. To state what has become obvious, one of the themes of Buffy is friendship.

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