Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Bad Girls"/"Consequences"

Musings on “Bad Girls”/”Consequences”
Just as Buffy creator Joss Whedon treats “Bad Girls”/”Consequences”, written by Doug Petrie and Marti Noxon and directed by Michael Lange and Michael Gershman, as one episode in his interview on the season three Buffy DVD, so will I. “Bad Girls”/”Consequences”, in its narrative, in its mise-en-scene, even in its rhythm, is, like “Welcome to the Hellmouth”/”The Harvest”, “Surprise”/”Innocence”, and “Becoming, Parts One and Two”, best seen as a single episode.

There is, as is always the case in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a lot going on in “Bad Girls”/”Consequences”. On the narrative level “Bad Girls”/”Consequences” moves several season three arcs along and is, as a result, the season three counterpart to season two’s “Surprise”/”Innocence”. Like “Surprise”/”Innocence”, which was one of the most important if not the most important episode in season two, “Bad Girls”/”Consequences”, is one of the most important if not the most important episode, in season three.

Both “Surprise”/”Innocence” and “Bad Girls”/”Consequences” are, in many ways, very similar structurally. Both episodes have their monsters of the week: in “Surprise”/”Innocence” it is the Judge in “Bad Girls”/”Consequences” it is the been in the sewers so long that his skin is going all white and sickingly obese Balthazar and his virtous and honourable sword wielding knight like vampire warriors the El Eliminati. In both episodes the big bads are front and centre: in season two’s “Surprise”/”Innocence” the big bads Dru and Spike, revive the Judge in order to destroy the world (though how serious Spike is in destroying the world can be debated), in season three’s “Bad Girls”/”Consequences” the big bad, the Mayor, prepares for and undergoes a transformative rite of passage, the “Dedication”, a ritual, as we find out, which makes him impervious to harm. And in both episodes we viewers are in for a surprise: in “Surprise”/”Innocence” the surprise is that Angel is transformed into the evil Angelus who will become, along with Dru and Spike, the big bads of season two while in “Bad Girls”/”Consequences” the surprise is that Faith, who has been hovering near the dark side since she arrived in Sunnydale, takes a job as the mayors right hand muscle after she kills his former right hand muscle man, Mr. Trick and become a big bad in season three. In each case these surprises played and will play important roles in how season two and season three spin out.

The transformation of Faith from sometime Scooby into the mayors muscle underlines the centrality of character developments or character arcs in “Bad Girls”/”Consequences”, a title itself that has great resonance with what is happening to several characters in “Bad Girls”/”Consequences” and season three of Buffy in general. The bad girls of “Bad Girls”/”Consequences” are, of course, primarily Buffy and Faith. Faith has, since she arrived in Sunnydale, been characterized by a kind of hedonism of the moment, a “get in, get it, get out” sort of mentality that underlines not only her view of sex but also her conception of slaying itself.

Buffy and Faith (not to mention Kendra) are, as Whedon and Doug Petrie say in the interview on“Bad Girls”/”Consequences” on the season three Buffy DVD set, doubles or doppelgangers of each other, doubles being a literary and filmic tradition that has engaged the interest of literary and film analysts, folklorists and even psychologists and psychotherapists including Rank and Freud over the years. In “Bad Girls”/”Consequences” Buffy becomes enticed by the same hedonism of the moment that is at the heart of Faith’s view of life and slaying. Buffy starts cutting class, acting as though she is Watcher free—she isn’t since young, arrogant, self-satistied, self-righteous, and bookish Wesley Wyndham-Pryce the new Watcher arrives at the beginning of the episode—and returns again to the rashness that sometimes characterized her actions in season one and season two and which dominates almost all that Faith does, in order to experience the joys of slaying (“hungry and horny”) with Faith. This rash hedonism of the moment for both Faith and Buffy reaches its zenith when our Slayers break into a sporting goods store to “want, take, have” weapons in order to confront Balthazar and his minions without going to Giles first.

Buffy’s flirtation with the dark side is short lived. After Faith accidentally kills a human, Allan Finch, the deputy mayor who apparently has come to warn our Slayers about the dastardly deeds of the mayor as they are fighting the El Eliminiti outside Balthazar’s warehouse hideout.

The difference between Buffy and Faith, as Whedon says in an interview on “Bad Girls”/”Consequences” on the third season Buffy DVD’s, is that Buffy’s moral conscience will not allow her to bury what happened to the deputy mayor. Faith’s lack of moral conscience will. The resurfacing of Buffy’s moral conscience is reflected in Buffy’s nightmare after the accidental killing of the deputy mayor by Faith. In her nightmare Buffy dreams that she is underwater trying to escape the grasp of the deputy mayor who is trying to hold her underneath the surface of the water. But it is not only the deputy mayor who is trying to pull Buffy down in her nightmare. Once Buffy escapes from the deputy mayor and surfaces it is Faith who pushes her back underneath the surface of the water. It is Faith, who wants to keep what happened between her and Buffy, and her rash hedonism that is killing who Buffy really is, a Slayer with a conscience.

While Buffy grieves over the death of the deputy mayor Faith seems, at least from Buffy’s point of view, to be “laughing and scratching and zipidee doo dah[ing]” again as though nothing happened. It is in the confrontation scene between Buffy and Faith on the streets of Sunnydale in act two of “Consequences” that the differences between the two Slayers become clear and Buffy’s moral conscience finally fully resurfaces. Faith argues that accidents happen and that while she is sorry for what happened to the deputy mayor what she and Buffy have done and continue to do, every night, killing the evil that goes bump in the night, evens the scales. Buffy does not let it end there, however. Pushing Faith to go to Giles and tell him what happened the Nietzschean Social Darwinism that is at the heart of Faith’s conception of the Slayer finally fully surfaces: “You're still not looking at the big picture, B”, says Faith, “Something made us different. We're warriors. We were built to kill…We are better. That's right. Better. People need us to survive.”

The Faith and Buffy character arcs aren’t the only ones playing themselves out in “Bad Girls”/”Consequences”. The theme of betrayal hovers over almost every major character in the Buffyverse in “Bad Girls”/”Consequences”. The mayor is betraying Sunnydale. The deputy mayor is betraying the mayor by keeping records of what is going on with him and by going to see the Slayers to tell them about the mayors demonic plans. Giles betrays the new Watcher Wesley by talking to Buffy about Slayer stuff. Willow learns about Xander’s “unhh” with Faith in “The Zeppo” and feels betrayed by the Xandman giving us viewers yet another one of those emotionally wrenching scenes where Willow cries this time in the Sunnydale High School bathroom. Faith betrays Buffy by telling Giles it was the Buffster not her who accidentally killed Allan Finch. Faith betrays Xander by choking him during almost sex without a safety word. Buffy betrays her moral conscience, her Slayerness, and her best friend Willow for a relationship with Faith ("hey girlfriend") that is not only slayerific but almost sexual in nature. Faith betrays Buffy and the Scoobies. The by the Watcher book Wesley betrays Faith to the Watcher’s Council after overhearing Giles and Buffy talking about Faith’s killing of the deputy mayor all the while feeling that he is doing his duty. Faith’s “arrest” by the Watcher’s Council does nothing except push her further to the dark side as Faith betrays Slayerness.

So what will the consequences for all these bad betraying girls and boys be? I guess we will see.

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