Monday, June 13, 2011

Buffy Blog: "The Wish"

"The Wish" written by Marti Noxon and directed by David Greenwalt begins where the two previous episodes, "Revelations" and "Lovers Walk", left off. In the teaser Buffy, Willow, and Xander are fighting a "huge, hideous demon", well kind of fighting it for at this moment since the demon has Buffy in, what the script describes, as its "iron grip". In yet another of those your friends have your back moments in Buffy the Vampire Slayer it is Buffy's friend Willow to the rescue this time. Willow grabs a knife from Buffy's weapons bag, throws it to the Buffster who stabs the "hideous demon" killing it. In a breaking of the fourth wall moment, not the last, by the way, in "The Wish"--Larry will at one point in the episode succinctly summarise the plot of "The Wish" while Willow and Xander discuss how the name of the Slayer, Buffy, is striking fear in "nobody's heart"--the three Scoobies stand over the demon waiting for it to go poof finally realising that it won't and that they will have to bury it. Slaying and patrolling can be hard work.

With the battle over and won the events of "Revelations" and "Lovers Walk" come back to haunt our Scoobies. Buffy, Willow, and Xander commiserate together about lovers lost, at least for the moment. Willow tells Buffy and Xander that she plans to continue her groveling and begging in order to get Oz back. Xander tells Buffy and Willow that he has left fifty or sixty phone messages for Cordy but has heard nothing from her. When Willow and Xander ask Buffy how she copes with lost loves she says, in another one of those friendship is an important theme that runs through Buffy the Vampire Slayer moments, she says, "I have you guys".

Oz and Cordelia, who are noticeably absent from the battle, cope with their lovers lost in their own way. Oz, in his typically Oz way, copes stoically with Willow's betrayal by telling her, when she intentionally unintentionally runs into him at his locker, that he needs space and that her need to repeat the apologies that she has made before is more about making herself feel better than dealing with their relationship problems. So much for grovelling and begging, at least at this point.

Cordy deals with Xander's betrayal by burning photos of the Xandman, coming to school dressed like a sex bomb, trying to get back in the good graces of Harmony and the other Cordettes, and trying to make Xander jealous by fake making out in the Sunnydale High hallway with a jock. None of this works, however. Harmony is in full mean girl mode telling Cordy that she has a new stallion for Cordy to ride, Jonathan (heees's baaaak). John Lee, the jock Cordy faux makes out with, tells Cordy that he has to protect his reputation particularly since the coach has moved him to second string and that he can't be seen in public making out with "Xander Harris's castoff". It is the apparently maturing Buffy who tries to come to Cordy's aid while they are all at the Bronze separately--Willow, Buffy, and Xander together but Cordy with other friends. Buffy's attempt to talk to Cordy and tell her how important friends are in times of difficulty fails, however, thanks to a vampire attack. A vampire attacks Buffy and Cordy outside the Bronze while they are talking (this scene parallels an earlier scene in season two's opening episode "When She Was Bad" when Cordy was trying to help Buffy get over her "Joan Collins 'tude'). During Buffy's battle with the vamp Cordy gets knocked into a garbage pile and, as a result, comes out all "dumpster chic for the dumped", as Harmony remarks when she an her posse pass Buffy and Cordy while leaving the Bronze. Feeling that once again her ties to Buffy have led to disaster--Cordy remembers how she was bitten by a snake in season two's "I Only Have Eyes for You" as an earlier instance of the tendency for her to end up in danger or hurt when Buffy is around and notes that it was because of Buffy that she got involved with Xander because she made him "marginally cooler" by hanging with him--Cordy turns elsewhere for solace. It is the new girl in town who is hanging with the Cordettes, Anya, Anyanka, who comes to Cordy's rescue, or so we think.

Anya it seems has a lot in common with Cordy. They both know the difference between Prada and Payless (Cordy in the course of the episode becomes more like the Cordy of season one and early season two) and they both have had it with men. What we don't know at first, however, is that Anya is a vengeance demon, the patron demon of scorned women, and that the locket she wears gives her the power to grant scorned women like Cordelia one wish. Anyanka tries unsuccessfully to get Cordy to make the wish of a scorned woman early in act one in the halls of Sunnydale High. It isn't until the third time they meet, just after Cordy has ended up in garbage heap during Buffy's fight with a vampire outside the Bronze, that Cordy finally makes a wish--"I wish Buffy Summers had never come to Sunnydale", she says to Anya. "Done", replies Anyanka.

Cut to a commercial break. Now back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Cordelia finds herself, as she soon realises, in the "brave new world" of a Sunnydale without Buffy Summers. We the viewers realise both narratively and visually that the Sunnydale that Cordy is in is not the Sunnydale we know and love. Most of "The Wish" before Cordy makes her wish takes place in the SoCal sunshine of daytime Sunnydale. The only exception to this was the nighttime scene at the Bronze with its dark eruption of a vampire into the sunny world of "The Wish" up to that point, a clear foreshadowing of the darkness that is to come. The "brave new world" Cordelia now finds herself in is a bleak noirish alternative world. Buffy is no longer in Sunnydale. Willow and Xander are dead. The Sunnydale High School student population has declined. Sunnydale High has a Winter Brunch instead of an evening Winter Formal because being out after dark is no longer safe thanks to Cordelia's wish that Buffy never came to Sunnydale. It is a bleak new world in which the Master has risen from his subterranean supernatural prison turning Sunnydale after dark into the domain and realm of the vampire because Buffy was not there to stop him.

Buffy may not have come to Sunnydale in this alternative reality but Angel did. He came to await Buffy's arrival. He has been taken prisoner by the Master and has become the plaything of one of the Masters most vicious close disciples, Willow. Giles, who also came to Sunnydale presumably to prepare for the arrival of Buffy which never comes, is, along with Oz, Larry, and Nancy (who we will see later in the third season episode Earshot), part of the white hats, the good guys, who manage to save potential vampire victims, including Cordelia, from a certain and horrible death. They are not strong or organised enough, however, to take on the Master in on his home ground, the Bronze. Speaking of the Bronze it has become a vampire club host to the horrid torture of human vampire victims (Whedon has, as I noted earlier, remarked on the S&M qualities that Noxon brought to Buffy). Finally to top the horror and darkness of this episode off, the Master is about to open a "plant", a "factory", that takes that most demonic of human creations, the mass production line, and applies it to problem of satisfying the blood lust of the ever growing vampire population creating a literal consumer society in the process. Ah, the joys of capitalism.

One can, I suppose, speculate about the literary, filmic, or television sources and antecedents of "The Wish's" bleak "new world". Nikki Stafford in her excellent guide to Buffy, Bite Me, compares "The Wish" to Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. And while both "The Wish" and It's a Wonderful Life imagine and visualise dark alternative worlds the alternative world of It's a Wonderful Life draws on film noir precedents with their nightscapes of rain and human depravity just as "The Wish" does.

Even if we accept that "The Wish" has been extensively influenced by Hollywood film noir there is still an interpretive problem we have to deal with. Noir has never, as far as I know, played with alternative universes. Comic books and science fiction novels, films and television programmes have, however, and Whedon, as is well known from interviews and his work in the comic book format (Astonishing X-Men, Fray, Buffy, Angel, Firefly), has been influenced by comic books. In the DC comic book universe alone there are multiple worlds with their own versions of its superheroes. Whedon, who studies film and gender studied at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, was also clearly influenced by science fiction genre films. So could the source of the alternate universe in "The Wish" be comic books, science fiction films, or both?

The problem with the comic book and science fiction film alternative world as the source of "The Wish" is twofold. First, Whedon was not the writer of "The Wish" Marti Noxon was and I can find no evidence that Noxon was the comic book or science fiction geek Whedon was (she studied theatre at UC, Santa Cruz) and she has never been involved with the Dark Horse Buffy comic books series since its inception. This is not an insurmountable problem since it is well known that Whedon often had his hand in scripts he was not the official writer of. Second, and this is the more compelling counterargument, the likely source for the alternative world darkness of the "The Wish" is told to us in the episode "The Wish" itself, Aldous Huxley's dystopian novel Brave New World (dystopian worlds are alternative worlds despite being grounded in the realities of the “real” worlds they satirise). Huxley's Brave New World is referenced by Anyanka toward the end of the episode. Finally, Huxley's Brave New World and Noxon's "The Wish" share a concern with the impact of new technologies on consumption patterns and human life.

In the meantime back in the brave new world of Buffy, "The Wish". The "exciting" "brave new world" that Cordy's wish brings forth is a brave new Sunnydale which sees Xander and Willow turned into vamps, Vamp Xander turned into a voyeur who enjoys watching Vamp Willow torture her pet "puppy" Angel (it keeps her from getting bored something that we will see afflicts the "real" Willow too), a Giles who can only watch from a cage he has been locked in by Vamp Willow and Vamp Xander while both feed on and finally kill Cordelia, a Buffy who has become a cynical loner who, as she says, doesn't "play well with others" much like Faith (the fact that Faith is missing in action is referenced early in the episode), and a Master who has become the dominant strongman and industrialist in his brave new kingdom of Sunnydale. At the end of the episode Angel, Willow, Xander, lie dead, Willow at the hands of Oz (irony?), Angel at the hands of Xander (more irony), Xander at the hands of Buffy (still more irony given the tensions in their relationship?), and Buffy at the hands of the Master (still more irony?). Just as all seems lost Giles, who has called forth Anyanka via a spell, grabs Anyanka's locket, her source of power, escapes from her clutches, and returns the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to what he hopes is a better world. Anyanka is returned to the point in time when Cordelia made her wish but now she can no longer grant any of the several wishes Cordelia makes. Whether this return to the world of Sunnydale we the viewers know and love will be a better one and whether this return will give us a happy Hollywood ending remains to be seen.

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