Saturday, February 26, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Killed by Death"

“Killed by Death” is the first of several Buffy fairy tale episodes. Season three’s “Gingerbread” and season four’s “Hush” are others. I love them all.

“Killed by Death”, written by Rob DesHotel and Dean Batali and directed by Deran Sarafian, finds Angelus still stalking Buffy and finds our superhero sick (does Superman, Spider-Man, and Wonder Woman ever get sick?). In the teaser Angelus and Buffy fight yet again and as the fight progresses Angelus is able to get the upper hand. Just as it looks as though he is going to bite Buffy Willow, Xander, and Angel who are patrolling so a sick Buffy can rest—she isn’t—appear and saves Buffy from the evil Angelus. A Slayer with family and friends who have her back is one of the series themes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

With Buffy saved from Angelus our Slayer fades before another attack this one from the flu. The Scoobies rush a delirious (“out of it”) Buffy to the hospital where she is admitted. We learn something about our beloved superhero when she is being wheeled into her hospital room with the Scoobies and Joyce, who has arrived at the hospital. Buffy doesn’t like hospitals. In the course of the episode we learn why. When Buffy was eight her cousin Celia, a cousin with whom she was close and who she used to rescue while playing Power Girl, Buffy, of course, was Power Girl, died in the hospital. Another thing we learn as “Killed by Death” unfolds is that Celia was killed by “Death”, by “Der Kindestod” (“Child Death”), the demon who sucks the life out of children who is the monster of the week in “Killed by Death”.

That Buffy hates hospitals is not the only thing we learn about our Slayer during the course of “Killed by Death”. We also learn that Buffy was already feeling her Slayer power at least by the age of eight. We learn that blaming herself for the deaths of others, others she thought she should have been there to save, is not something new for Buffy. Buffy has not forgiven herself for Celia’s death and Buffy’s sense of failure gets even worse when she learns that it was “Der Kindestod” who killed Celia in front of her very eyes. Buffy also blames herself for the death of Dr. Backer, the doctor killed by death, in this episode, “Yet another person I wasn't in time to save”, she says. Buffy’s psychological damage will be a major theme of the show through to its end. Speaking of Buffy’s psychology Giles wonders once again whether Buffy is personalizing things she can’t fight turning death and disease in the process into the figure of “Der Kinderstod” so she can relieve her guilt.

There are several scenes I really like in “Killed by Death”. I love the wonderful scene between Xander and Angel in the hospital at the beginning of act two. Xander, who Angelus calls Buffy’s “white knight”, does “security duty” (soldier guy makes his appearance again), and confronts Angelus, who brings flowers to a sick Buffy presumably meaning to kill her while delivering them to our Slayer. “ANGLE: A BOUQUET OF FLOWERS as someone enters from the outside carrying them.It's Angel. He saunters past the reception desk -- only to have Xander step in his path. XANDER: Visiting hours are over. ANGEL: Well, I'm pretty much family. XANDER: Why don't you come back during the day...Or, gee, no. I guess you can't. ANGEL: If I decide to walk into Buffy's room do you think for one microsecond that you could stop me? XANDER: Maybe not. Maybe that security guard couldn't either -- or those cops. Or all the orderlies... I'm kind of curious to find out. You game? ANGEL: Buffy's white knight. You still love her. It must just eat you up that I got there first. Xander clenches his jaw against the truth of it. XANDER: You're gonna die. I'm gonna be there. Angel smiles, hands Xander the flowers. ANGEL: Tell her I stopped by. He exits, Xander suddenly shaky with released fear and tension”. I love this scene because it is a microcosm of so much that has happened in Buffy up to this point: Xander’s jealousy when it comes to Angel, Xander’s love for Buffy, Xander’s willingness to protect Buffy even in the face of someone far stronger than he is, the competition between Xander and Angel for Buffy’s love, Angelus’s penchant for cutting wit, and Angelus’s obsessiveness (be this obsessiveness love or hate) when it comes to Buffy. The scene is frightening, witty, full of terror, painful, and heroic all at the same time.

I love the scene where Cordelia brings donuts (this is not the last time Xander will get his donut fix on literally or figuratively) and coffee to Xander at the hospital while Xander is on “security duty”. Nothing is said. Everything is done though expression and action. But, in this instance, expression and action are everything and we learn through it just how much Cordelia cares for Xander.

And I love the direction and the music in “Killed by Death”. “Killed by Death”, befitting a episode that has a lot of the fairy tale in it, has an expressionist noir vibe right out of the German 1920 noir expressionist film Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) with its expressionist somnambulant and the expressionist vampire shadow world of the 1922 German film Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror). Like its noir expressionist forbearers “Killed by Death” is full of night shadows, creepy haunts, watery basements, and horrible monsters of the nightmarish imagination (here are those nightmares again) that kill helpless children in a quite creepy and frightening way. Buffy adds creepy green hues into the black and white expressionist mix. The score by Shawn Clement and Sean Murray with its fairy tale expressionist creepiness underlines the expressionism of the cinematography and mise-en-scene.

Cultural Relativism: Giles brings a sick Buffy grapes, a British custom.

Cultural References: Xander references Ingmar Bergman’s famous film Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal) where death plays chess with a knight. Someone, Whedon?, has been watching his Bergman. Angelus whistles the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony when he enters the hospital to visit a sick Buffy. Is this a reference to A Clockwork Orange, an Anthony Burgess book and Stanley Kubrick film in which Beethoven’s Ninth was a favourite of its vicious and brutal anti-hero Alex? Buffy calls Willow “Sherlock” referencing Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes.

LOL: Cordy telling Xander that she has seem him watching Buffy’s “back”, i.e., derriere, and telling him he can now watch her “back” as she walks away. This being Xander he does. I love how he tips his head down so he can check out Cordy’s “butt”. Cordy is, of course, making a pun here. Xander has Buffy’s back and is watching her “back”. Willow references her fear of frogs again. Willow’s phoba made its first appearance in “What’s My Line”.

The Chorus: I love Cordy the forthright, the Cordy who tells Giles after he asks her whether she knows what tact is that “Tact is just not saying true stuff. I think that I, in many ways, am like Cordy. This is probably not a good social thing but hey.

Foreshadowings: In “Killed by Death” Giles notes that small children see things adults can’t. In the next fairy tale episode the adult Joyce will see small children (the avatars of a monster) others can’t.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Easy Money

I am really sorry I missed the CW's Easy Money during its short run on the small screen. I didn't seriously consider watching it during its broadcast run, I guess, because I tend to shy away from networks that think that retreads like Gossip Girl, 90210, and Melrose Place are worth putting on. But hey, their attitude is, speaking of easy money, if it makes money it must be good (the doctrine of commodity aestheticism).

The producers of Easy Money were, I am told, involved with The Sopranos and it shows. Great casting. Great acting. A marvelous sense of place. A little walk on the darkside of the American dream. I never really found The Sopranos particularly compelling or interesting enough to watch on a regular basis, I feel this way about a lot of the shows on HBO. It all seemed like yet another retread of the gangster/mafia drama albeit a well done and well acted one. So I was surprised at how much I liked this show. It, in my opinion, blows the Sopranos away.

It is too bad that so much on the American small screen today is guided by the commodity aestheticism dumbstick and that Media Rights Capital, MRC, the company that produced Easy Money, went belly up while it was running the CW's Sunday night prime time. It, like many who borrow money from loan sharks like Easy Money's Prestige, never had a chance. And that is too bad. But I guess that is the American way.

A brief addendum: since I wrote these words MRC has apparently cut a deal with Universal to distribute twenty of its films over the next five years. I wonder if they will have any more success than they did in 2008 with Easy Money, Valentine, and In Harm's Way.

Musings on American Parochialism

Americans have had a long hate affair with socialism, communism, and anarchism, one that goes back to the nineteenth century. After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 socialism and communism were generally conflated by most Americans. This is rather ironic since the Bolsheviks claimed, much like Roman Catholics, Orthodox Chrisians, and a host of Protestant Christian groups, that there brand of socialism was the only true brand of true socialism. Many Americans apparently took Lenin's claims to heart.

Most Americans really aren't familiar with the various permutations of socialism. They don't distinguish between Christian socialism, communal socialism, scientific socialism, and democratic socialism. And I am not sure they understand how important democratic socialism has been in "old" Europe and in Israel.

I suspect that for most Americans today socialism equals big government, big taxes, and big redistribution of taxes. And since they have an eric the half a bees’ knowledge of human history they don't recognise the fact that bureaucracy is not a monopoly of socialism or communism and that it is, as Weber points out, a product of modernity. Modern states, in general, have grown since the 19th century just as modern business big scale enterprises, corporations, which are bureaucracies in all senses, have grown since the 17th century.

Large-scale capitalism, of course, is grounded in a bigger is better mentality. Large-scale capitalism inevitably breeds bigger though not necessarily better bureaucracies since modern capitalism tends toward cartellisation and monopolisation. They, in other words, tend to become ever bigger and bigger bureaucracies as a result of practises inherent within capitalist enterprises, particularly big capitalist enterprises.

Football gets entangled in this American parocialism. American sports are a reflection of American parochialism and tribalism. Most Americans, particularly those of a particular age, see football as other, as a game old Europe and other countries play. They see it as boring and slow, an interesting characterisation since football is a 90 minute game played in 90 minutes or so while US football is a sixty minute game played over three and a half hours. Americans see their games as exciting and fast paced. Not surprisingly Americans see American film and TV in a similar way and criticize art cinema and television as "slow" and “boring”.

In terms of sports the US isn’t really competitive (yet) in three of the world’s global or almost global sports, football, rugby, and cricket. Hence they live in a sports world where they equate achievement in sports they invented and by and large dominate as world conquest (“World Series”, “Super Bowl”).



Commodity Fetishism and Television

Television and film aesthetics is a thorny and complicated matter. I suppose if you are viewing film through the standards of the post-Spielberg and Lucas world, through the prism of commodity aestheticism where quality is determined by quantity of viewers, the US sets the “gold standard”. There are, however, problems with this argument.

The major problems with commodity aestheticism revolve around market size, size sometimes does matter, and the tendency of humans to ignore the fact that size sometimes matters just as they ignore variations in geography, raw materials, and climate in discussions of industrialization and capitalism. It is not an equal playing field out there. It is no accident that the bigger the economy the more money one can put into film and television production and the cheaper you can sell your second run goods to other markets. Beyond size history is important. Those media industries in industrial countries that began earlier also have an advantage in the unequal media playing field. And then there is the issue of cultural imperialism where economic power often translates in to cultural dominance (I do realise this a complex process and that readers use American programmes in interesting ways…still I will always remember an Algerian I met at SMU who said that he had decided to come to school at that mediocre university because of the images he had seen of the city on the prime-time soap Dallas).

I am one of those folks born BJ, before Jaws. I don’t think that aesthetics can be reduced to either popularity or ticket sales. Such an approach would mean that Lady Gaga is superior to Beethoven and Rosemary Rodgers to James Joyce. And I don’t think either are. On the other hand, I recognise that values are a historical social and cultural phenomenon, that what I like is a product of the social and cultural influences I have experienced during the course of my life. That said, I prefer Citizen Kane to anything that has come out of Hollywood since the triumph of Spielberg and Lucas. I prefer the European art cinema to Hollywood, which I regard as the industry producing the most disposable films in the known universe at present, and I much prefer British television to US television pretty much across the board. I prefer the 1995 Pride and Prejudice and White Teeth to any adaptation on US TV (thank god they don’t do many any more). I prefer Fawlty Towers to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Spaced to Big Bang Theory, the British Life on Mars to the pathetic US version, and Spooks to The Unit. This is not to say that British TV isn’t dreadful sometimes, it is just less dreadful as a general rule than US TV. All this said I do realise that 99% of literature, films, TV, and theatre are drek.

Beyond the UK, by the way, I think Kielowski’s Dekalog one of the finest TV shows ever made. I also like Bergman’s TV programmes Scenes from a Marriage and Fanny and Alexander. There is nothing like them on US TV unless you count the British stuff PBS runs and count Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage which PBS ran. I guess I prefer film and TV with a brain.

Another Week, Another Stupid List: EW "Reveals" the Best Film Directors Working Today

So another week has come and it has not yet passed without another insipid and stupid “best of” list making its debut on the screens of American cyberspace. The latest “best of” list comes from EW, Entertainment Weekly, during their leadup to Oscar night. EW calls their list the “25 Greatest Working Directors” (EW Online, 22 February 2011, http://www.ew.com/ew/gallery/0,,20311937_20346922,00.html).

So here’s the list:

1. David Fincher
2. Christopher Nolan
3. Steven Spielberg
4. Martin Scorsese
5. Darren Aronofsky
6. Joel and Ethan Coen
7. Quentin Tarantino
8. Terence Mallick
9. Clint Eastwood
10. Pedro Almodovar
11. Paul Thomas Anderson
12. Guillermo Del Toro
13. Roman Polanski
14. Danny Boyle
15. Kathryn Bigelow
16. David O. Russell
17. David Lynch
18. James Cameron
19. Peter Jackson
20. Edgar Wright
21. Spike Lee
22. J. J. Abrams
23. Brad Bird
24. Mike Leigh
25. Wes Anderson

There are several things to note about this list specifically the dominance of American directors on it, the dominance of Hollywood directors on it, and the absence of prominent art cinema directors, including directors who have been working since the 1960s and who have influenced virtually everyone on this list (Godard, Rivette, Resnais, Wenders, Loach) and contemporary practitioners of cinema as art (Kiarostami, the Dardennes, Kaurismaki, Garrone, Sembane, Maddin, Egoyan, Weerasethakul, Angelopoulos) on the list. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised about any of this since EW is, by and large, a shill for contemporary Hollywood and its commodities.

And that is what these “best of” lists really reveal? They actually tell us more about the people putting together these lists and their social and cultural contexts (including aesthetic) than they do about any supposed universal aesthetic truths ("best" directors, "best" films). So what does this list tell us? Well EW’s list tells us, as I have already implied, something about America in the post World War Two period.

It was after World War Two, specifically in 1948, that American federal anti-trust regulators finally broke up the Hollywood monopoly on film production, distribution, and exhibition. This anti-trust action opened up the American market to cinema from outside the US, particularly cinema from Continental Europe. Independent distributors arose to distribute films by art cinema giants like Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, and later the enfant terribles of the French nouvelle vague (Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer, Rivette, Resnais, Varda) to independent cinemas in the US market place.

And people came. When I was a student in Bloomington, Indiana in the mid-1970s and early 1980s I could see a “foreign” film every night of the week by directors like Godard, Truffaut, Rivette, Fassbinder, Ozu, and Weir. The showings as one might expect, given that Bloomington is a classic college town, were always well attended. Foreign art cinema even began to influence products coming out of an economically ailing Hollywood. This influence ranged from the direct—-Godard and Truffaut were asked to direct “Bonnie and Clyde” and Truffaut actually worked on the script of that film—-to the indirect—-Bonnie and Clyde was clearly impacted narratively and mise-en-scene wise by the French nouvelle vague while art cinema enervated a new generation of Hollywood film makers and the American independent cinema, including the American avant garde.

It took a while for Hollywood to find an answer to all of this. Ronald Reagan helped. Reagan, who assumed the presidency in 1980, ushered in an administration less interested in anti-trust than in bringing about a new gilded age of large American mega corporations who, through vertical and horizontal integration (called synergy in the opaque doublespeak of the era), could and would come to dominate the American and global marketplace. What this meant for the American film industry was the reemergence of the Hollywood monopoly over production, distribution, and exhibition making it difficult if impossible for non-Hollywood films to get distributed and exhibited. Hollywood, in fact, would eventually gobble up independent film producers and distributors in the name of niche marketing making Robert Redford’s attempt to save the independent film, Sundance, virtually irrelevant. Hollywood would also buy up foreign product and either sit on them or remake them usually in a much less interesting and far more film by Hollywood numbers way. But perhaps most of all it was the emergence of a new generation of directors, mega directors and producers like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, who eventually brought Hollywood back from the dead by using new technologies and the action adventure films stylistics and narrative forms to bring back the Hollywood blockbuster with a vengeance, a Hollywood blockbuster aimed particularly at the teen and tween, physically and mentally, market. One commentator aptly called them the "movie brats" at the time. Hollywood has ever since been fixated on teens, tweens, and the action adventure cinema (including action adventure science fiction and fantasy). A metteur-en-scene like J.J. Abrams seems like the perfect avatar for this new "juvenile" Hollywood.

So what does all of this have to do with EW’s “best working director” list? The list, like the American cinema marketplace itself, reflects a parochialism that is at the heart of American life. Academics often refer to it as “American exceptionalism”. And while the US is not really exceptional—-the US shares much socially and culturally with Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Great Britain, for instance—-the belief common among many Americans that America is unique is a factor in how Americans think about themselves, how they act, and what they think about American made goods, including those produced by Hollywood. So it should not be a surprise that the EW list is dominated by Americans and Hollywoodoids.

This parochialism has even come to dominate, as critic Jonathan Rosenbaum noted, American “art” cinema. As Rosenbaum notes over time foreign films and foreign auteurs were driven (aesthetic cleansing?) from of a marketplace that would once again dominated by Hollywood product. American “art” directors arose who were allowed to hover around the edges of American film culture and the American film marketplace by Hollywood corporate giants and were sometimes even hired to work for the "independent" arms of Hollywood mega corporations. Take David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino, for example. The pop surrealist Lynch is pretty much an American Luis Bunuel, probably the most well-known and longest lived director who worked in surrealism. Few American moviegoers know this, however, since most of them have never heard of or seen Bunuel's films outside of cinephiles who live in college towns and culturally elite American cities with their art cinema revival houses. It is also worth noting the differences between Bunuel and Lynch because they reflect two aspects of American intellectual culture in the twentieth century version of the fin-de-siecle. Unlike Bunuel, whose surrealism was political, Lynch's surrealism seems be characterised by a surrealism for surrealism's sake. Surrealism, in other words, in rather postmodernist fashion, seems to have become its own point of reference, its own simulation. Tarantino, of course, is a latter day Godard (the name of Tarantino’s production company, A Band Apart, references Godard’s famous and infamous 1964 film “Bande à Part”). Godard, like Tarantino, was fixated on the hard-boiled noir gangster theme for years. My European wife said it all when after seeing “Pulp Fiction” she expressed surprise that the film had garnered such critical attention and intellectual cult adoration since what Tarantino did in “Pulp Fiction” (hard boiled meets the narrative avant garde) had been done at least since the late 1950s in the European cinema of Bergman, Godard, Truffaut, and Resnais. Check out Godard’s jump cuts in “À bout de souffle” and compare it with the classic Hollywood cinematic style of “Pulp”. But again most Americans don’t realize any of this because ahistoricism is at the centre of contemporary mass film culture in the US. And that is exactly how Hollywood with its built in obsolescence and its cult of nostalgia about itself wants it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Passion"

“Passion”, written by Ty King, really shifts the big bad second season arc into gear. Angel continues to put his plan to psychologically torture Buffy and to kill her friends into action but moves it to a new and more intense level in this episode.

The title of the episode “Passion” has a wide-ranging meaning within the episode itself. It refers to Buffy’s continuing passion, continuing love, for Angel, an Angel that seems to have disappeared by the end of this episode. It refers to the passion Angel has for brutal psychological torture of women like Buffy and Dru. It refers to the love, the twisted love, Angel continues to have for Buffy. As Willow tells Buffy at one point in the episode she, Buffy, is still all that Angel, even now that he has “turned”, can think about (passion “consumes” says Angel in his voice over narration). Angel’s passion for Buffy is no longer the passion of romantic love. It is now the passion to wipe that love, that memory of being human, from his consciousness, something Angelus is having a hard time doing (“…so it”, passion, “must die” says Angel in his voice over narration).

“Passion” has a lot of the noir in it. The episode takes place for the most part during the night and is darkly lit. Then there is the dark aspects of the episode. There's Angel’s beautiful but perverse etchings of Buffy which he drew while she was asleep in the presumed safety of her bedroom, the place where Buffy and Angel first kissed and expressed their love for each other on several occasions afterward. There's Angel’s beautiful but as we know perverse etching of a Jenny he has just killed and left, along with Puccini blaring on the stereo and rose petals on the stairs, for Giles to discover in his flat. There's Angel’s brutal murder of Jenny Calendar toward the end of “Passion”. There's the noir like voice over narration by the now evil villain of the piece, Angel, a narration that appears throughout the course of the episode. There's the voice over narration of Buffy at the end of the episode, a voice over narration in which Buffy recognises that the Angel she fell in love with is gone forever. Noir tragedy.

“Passion” also has a lot of the Jane Austen and Anthony Mann in it. Angel is a damaged man like many of the males in Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice (D’Arcy) and Mann’s films (Winchester 73, The Man from Laramie, Bend of the River, Naked Spur). It also has a bit of the Hitchcock in it. Angel is a voyeur right out of Hitchcock’s Rear Window. He is, however, a far more perverse voyeur than Jimmy Stewart in that brilliant film. Angel creepily comes into Buffy’s bedroom and leaves her an etching he has sketched of her while she was asleep. Angel perversely enters Willow’s bedroom, kills her fish, and leaves them in an envelope for Will. Angel creepily leaves Buffy an etching of Joyce at Willow’s. Angel perversely confronts Joyce as she returns from the grocery store telling her that he and Buffy made love. Angel perversely makes Giles think that Jenny has prepared the champagne, roses, rose petals, candles, and Puccini for him as preparation for a rekindling their romance and that she is waiting upstairs in his bedroom for him. Jenny, of course, lies dead in Giles’s bed. Angel perversely enjoys watching Buffy collapse in numbness and Willow collapse into painful tears after Giles informs them both by phone that Angelus has brutally and insultingly (Whedon’s description of his act in his interview on “Passion” on the second season Buffy DVD’s) killed Jenny by breaking her neck. The camera, which has peered through the window of Buffy’s house from Angel’s voyeuristic point of view gaze, switches to a shot of Angel and we viewer voyeurs see his perversely smiling face as he ecstatically responds to how Buffy and Will react to the news that Jenny is dead. If we, the viewers, didn’t realise that this Angel is evil and dangerous we do now.

And finally “Passion” has a lot of tragedy in it. There's the tragedy associated with Jenny’s betrayal of the Scoobies. There is a tragic dimension to Jenny's continued love for Giles after the betrayal and Giles's continual loyalty to Buffy despite his love for Jenny. There's the tragedy of Jenny’s reconstruction of the Gypsy “Ritual of Restoration” and Angel’s destruction of the computer that houses the ritual and the printout of the ritual that will save his "soul". There's the tragedy of Jenny’s death at the hands of Angel just as she and Giles are about to reconcile. There's a tragic dimension associated with Willow’s knocking off of the computer disc on which Jenny has saved the “ritual of restoration” onto the floor between two desks in Jenny’s classroom just after Will takes over Jenny’s teaching duties.

The Chorus: “Passion” is yet another one of my favourite episodes of Buffy. “Passion” packs an intense emotional wallop in Jenny's death, a character many viewers of Buffy had become attached. Whedon (the interview on “Passion” in the Buffy second season DVD set) has said that he wanted viewers to know that Angel was truly evil which is why he had Angelus brutally kill Jenny by breaking her neck with his hands all without any sign of remorse.

There are several incredible scenes in “Passion”, scenes that rival anything in Bergman or any other great art filmmakers of the past or present. There is the incredible scene where Buffy doesn’t forgive Jenny for what she has done but tells Jenny that she doesn’t want Giles, who she says misses Jenny, or Jenny to be lonely. The loneliness of the lives of the Scoobies and the attempt to counteract that loneliness through friendship and love is, of course, a major theme in Buffy. There is the incredible scene where Angel tells Joyce that he and Buffy have had sex. Scary. Tense. There is the incredible scene where Joyce has “the talk” with Buffy after she learns that Buffy has had sex with an older Angel who she hasn’t even told Joyce she is dating and where Joyce tells Buffy that regardless of what she does she will always care for her. Joyce is a great mum. There is the incredible scene where Angel kills Jenny. There is the incredible scene in which Angel has prepared a “gift” for Giles, the dead Jenny Calendar. Perverse. Creepy. There is the incredible scene where Buffy and Willow learn that Angelus has brutally killed Jenny Calendar. There is the incredible scene where Giles goes to the Factory to kill Angel, where Buffy fights with Angel pummeling him, where Buffy rescues Giles, and where Buffy tells Giles that she can’t loose him because she can’t “do this (Slayer thing) alone”. “Passion” is incredibly powerful and disturbing filmmaking of the highest order. I was deeply distressed and pained when I first saw it many moons ago. It still packs an incredible emotional punch even after one has seen it eight or nine time as I have.

Vampire Lore: Jenny discovers a way to disinvite vampires into ones house and car. Buffy has garlic on her bed board to protect her and Will from Angel.

Perversely Creepy: Angel’s laugh. Angel killing Jenny by breaking her neck all in vamp face (Whedon said in the interview on “Passion” in the second season Buffy DVD set that they debated whether Angel should kill Jenny in human or vamp face and decided on the latter since they thought the latter would be too troublesome for many). Angel’s ecstasy (an aspect of passion as he says in his narration) over his killing of Jenny and how it has impacted Buffy and Will.

Laugh Out Loud: Xander wondering what Jonathan and another student are doing walking into the library without knocking. This is a wonderful comment on the fact that basically no one except our Scoobies are ever in the Sunnydale High School Library. A wry comment on student reading habits or the lack thereof?

Awesome: Xander’s (with attitude) “I'm sorry. But let's not forget that I hated Angel long before all of you guys jumped on the bandwagon. So, I think I deserve something for not saying "I told you so" long before now. And, if Giles wants to go after the… fiend who murdered his girlfriend, I say ‘Faster, Pussycat. Kill. Kill'". Xander is, of course, referencing a film directed by the king of softcore sexploitation Russ Meyer here.

Previously on Buffy: Willow has the word “sheep” on a tack board in her bedroom. Cordy had called the Cordettes sheep in “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”. The scene with Giles and Buffy at Jenny’s grave recalls Buffy’s dream about Jenny the betrayer in “Surprise/Innocence”.

Foreshadowings: We get to see Willow the teacher. She will reappear throughout the course of the series.

Goodbye and All That: Giles burns the Factory down. We won’t see the Factory again until season three’s “Lovers Walk”.

Questions: Will anyone find the “Ritual of Restoration” spell Jenny has reconstructed and which Willow has knocked on the floor between two discs and restore Angel’s soul?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Idiocy that is Life in the US in the Early Twenty-First Century...

You gotta love these right wing claims that a left wing liberal, commie, nazi conspiracy is afoot. I mean there is a conspiracy, a concerted attack, on "democracy" and "freedom" but it is not liberals who are engaged in it. It is many on the right...

We have seen in the US since the New Deal a concerted attempt to roll back the democratic gains made by workers since the nineteenth century against difficult odds (difficult because the government, for the most part, used the power of the state to back the corporate elite). More than anything else it has been the right workers gained to collectively bargain that the corporate elite and their business and political allies have attempted to roll back since the New Deal. They have been increasingly successful in their campaign to do this particularly since the fall of Richard Nixon, an event which marks the demise of the social or progressive liberal consensus (which was always limited anyway) which was set in motion by Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson who destroyed the Democratic coalition FDR put in place thanks to the former's integration of the US military and the latter's passing of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts. Republicans took advantage of this by, over time, incorporating the Dixiecrat wing of the Democratic Party within the Republican Party as Nixon and Republican strategist Kevin Phillips had foreseen and planned. As Dixiecrats (a wing of the Democratic Party dominated by a states rights mantra, the right of the states to maintain slavery and later to institute discriminatory policies against Blacks) became Republicans social and progressive liberal Republicans were ostracised as RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), were banned, or left the party creating the new Republican Party we have now, a Republican Party that has been taken over by the ideology of neoliberalism, a party which has become the mouthpiece of Big Neoliberal Business.

There are a number of myths, myths which parallel the myths Nazis told about Jews, the political left, gypsies, and other "decadents", that have been propagated by the right about unions. The first myth is about the power of unions. The reality is that the number of workers in unions in the US has never been as great as in unions in Western Europe and union membership has been on decline for years in the US. Only 9% of workers in private companies and businesses are unionised. Only around 35% of public workers are unionised. The South has never had a worker friendly economic or political environment (which is why the South "profited" from deindustrialisation in the North and Midwest). It is and has long been difficult for workers to organise in the South and bargain for better wages, better benefits, and better working conditions.

Another myth is the fairy tale that that unions and their political allies are singlehandedly responsible for the demise of American manufacturing. The reality is that unions have never determined management practises in American corporations or businesses. In this right wing dreamworld unions are the reason that fewer fewer buy American cars. Yeah, like globalisation (including the demise of nationalist protectionism), a globalisation the economic elite supported, had nothing to do with anything. Yeah like management design and the quality of the automobiles designed and manufactured by the management elite has nothing to do with the demise of the automobile industry in the US.

What is really going on here is those who control industry in the US and those economic elites who control this country through their lobbying power, their political contributions, and their close ties to political powers that be are concerned largely with only one thing, PROFIT. Over the years they have successfully lobbied against the protectionism that made the US into an economic giant (the creation of international financial and trade organisations and NAFTA were important turning points in the demise of US economic nationalism). They have moved manufacturing out of the US to increase their profit margins. They can do this because they pay lower wages to workers in "developing" countries like India, Mexico, Indonesia. Duh. And now their political puppets, most of them Republican, are using the "financial crises" in states across the US (a financial crises caused largely by big finances love for increased profits) to try to break public service unions while at the same time giving tax breaks to their corporate buddies. By the way, one report by a nonpartisan group in Wisconsin indicated that the financial problems in that state were made far worse by the passage of tax breaks for the wealthy passed by the Republican dominated legislature and supported by the governor. Can you say cynical Machiavellianism?

That so many in the US don't recognise what is going on here and mouth the banal and insipid platitudes of their corporate masters, platitudes like unions are ruining America, liberals are socialists who are ruining this country (laissez faire ideology is liberal dudes and dudettes) raises questions about human intelligence, the abilities of humans to reason rationally on the basis of empirical evidence, and the role demagogeury plays in the socialisation (brainwashing) process. Well I guess we will see how the less well off among these folks enjoy a return to the bah humbug Ebenezer Scrooge state. As for me I am looking forward to being enslaved to Mr. Burns. Take that Watson.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered"

Valentine’s Day is coming and Xander decides to give Cordelia a heart shaped locket. Buffy wonders if Cordy even knows what a heart is. Cordelia feeling the scorn and ostracism of her Cordettes for dating a “looser” like Xander (“a girl wants to look good for her geek”, says Harmony) decides to dump him (“we don’t fit”) on Valentine’s Day, the worst day of the year anyone could dump someone on.

“Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” penned by Marti Noxon and directed by James Contner is Buffy doing the you broke my heart but I still love you and want you back theme that is so prominent in fiction, film, and television. As this is Buffy, however, this theme is done with several twists and curves.

Amy from “The Witch” is back and she is following in her mother’s footsteps. Amy is practicing witchcraft. Xander sees her practise witchy magic on their teacher. Amy is supposed to hand in assignment but hasn’t completed it. She thus casts a spell on her teacher convincing her that she turned in the assignment when she really didn’t.

Hurt by Cordy breaking up with him Xander gets the bright idea to blackmail Amy and have her cast a spell on Cordelia making her love him so he can take his revenge on her by breaking up with her before she breaks up with him. This being Buffy the spell, of course, goes awry. The spell makes everyone but Cordelia fall for Xander including Buffy (who Xander still has a thing for), Amy, Jenny, Willow, Buffy’s mom Joyce, and the Sunnydale High’s lunch lady. As the battle for Xander’s heart among Sunnydale’s female population gets more intense so does the anger of each Sunnydale female at anyone who stands between her and Xander. Amy turns Buffy into a rat to keep her from getting the Xander she wants. Just when it seems that the spell can’t make Xander’s “love” life any crazier than it already is Drusilla pulls Angelus off of Xander just as he is about to kill him telling Angel that Xander is a real man and his face is a poem. The spell Amy and Xander cast, in other words, affects vampires as well as humans. Drusilla, in turn, is kept from turning Xander into a vampire by the female mob infected with Xandermania.

“Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” may be in large part a Xander episode but the various love relationships of the Scoobies weave through the episode. “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” thus moves character arcs and the arc of season two forward. We have already talked about the demise Xander/Cordy relationship. But I want to touch on several aspects of this relationship I didn’t earlier. There are hints throughout the episode that Xander and Cordy really have something “special” with one another. Cordy likes how Xander looks (“I let Buffy dress me”, he says) as he gives her the heart locket at the Bronze on Valentine’s Day. Cordy wears the necklace Xander gave her even after she breaks up with him. Xander saves Cordy from the wrath of the Cordettes who go from ostracizing Cordy for dating Xander to ostracising Cordy for breaking up with Xander when Amy’s spell kicks in. Cordy saves Xander from the female mob each member of which loves Xander so much they are more than willing to kill him if they and they alone can’t have him. At the end of the episode Cordy breaks away from Harmony and the other Cordettes after they verbally abuse him. Cordy calls Harmony, and by extension the other Cordettes, “sheep”. “You're a sheep”, she says. “All you ever do is what everyone else does just so you can say you did it first. And here I am, scrambling for your approval, when I'm *way* cooler than you are 'cause I'm *not* a sheep. I do what I wanna do, and I wear what I wanna wear. And you know what? (Xander smiles) I'll date whoever the hell I wanna date. No matter how lame he is”. The Xander/Cordy relationship continues and moves to another level.

The Xander/Cordy relationship is not the only one that comes into play in “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”. Angel continues to stalk Buffy and her friends and sends Buffy flowers on Valentine’s with a card that says “Soon”. Presumably Angel’s is informing Buffy of his intention to kill her soon. The strained and sexually tense relationship between Spike, Dru, and Angel continues. Spike buys Dru a necklace for Valentine’s Day. Angel gives her the still warm heart of a “quaint little shopgirl” knowing, as Dru tells Spike, that Angel knows what “speaks to a girl’s heart”. The relationship between Jenny and the Scoobies and Jenny and Giles remains strained thanks to what happened in “Surprise/Innocence”. Giles exhibits some jealousy when Jenny becomes a victim of Xander’s spell. He still has feelings for her. Willow’s and Oz’s relationship continues and Willow proudly tells Amy that her “boyfriend is in the band”. Oz’s band, Dingoes Ate My Baby, is back and plays on Valentine’s Day at the Bronze. Willow and Oz exchange looks with each other while Oz is on stage and Willow is in the audience.

The Moral: Be careful what you wish for and think before you mess with magicks.

Witchcraft Lore: Amy warns Xander that love spells are the hardest spells to get right. Amy calls upon the Diana the Roman goddess of the hunt and later of the moon to cast the love spell for Xander. In “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” Diana is referred to as the goddess of the hunt and love. Amy calls upon the goddess Hecate, the Greek and Roman goddess of magic and crossroads, to turn Buffy into a rat. She uses a similar spell on Jenny but is stopped by Xander from finishing the spell. When Amy casts her spell her eyes turn black just as Willow’s will when she casts a spell in “Becoming” at the end of season two and beyond. Buffy will develop a taste for cheese as a result of being a rat (see season four).

Laugh Out Loud: Buffy figuring out that the doors in the Sunnydale High Library, the doors which have served as barriers between the Scoobies and those out to get them on several occasions, open both ways. Xander walking through the school hall to the music of the Scottish soul group Average White Band (“Got the Love”) as women look on him with love (or is it obsession) and guys look on him with anger and jealousy.

Mise-en-scene: Xander’s bedroom contains comic book posters, a car poster, a pool ball triangle, and plastic spiders. What does this tell us about Xander?

This is Real Life: As Giles tells Xander the spell he casts “is not a love” spell but an “obsession” spell. “Selfish, banal obsession”. And as Giles tells Xander such “obsession” is dangerous. “People under a-a love spell”, he says, “… are-are deadly. They lose all capacity for reason”. You don’t need me to tell you how dangerous and potentially violent obsession has and can be. According to Buffy Xander invoked “the great Roofie spirit” to carry out his spell. Roofie refers to the drug flunitrazepam which is sometimes used incapacitate victims so date rape can be committed.

Previously on Buffy: Xander and Cordy are hiding in the basement again. They hid from bug man in “What’s My Line”. In “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” they are hiding from the Xandermania mob.

Foreshadowings: When Willow is coming on to Xander she licks his ear. She will lick the ear of her doppelganger in season three’s “Doppelgangland”.
Explanation, Explanation: Once Giles and Amy break the spell Cordy tells the obsessed with Xander mob that they have been taking part in the “best scavenger hunt ever”.

The Chorus: “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” is another one of my favourite episodes of Buffy. This episode was one of the funniest comedies I had seen in years when I first saw it years ago. Thankfully it is a comedy bereft of what passes for humour in American sitcoms and absent what passes for comic “acting” in contemporary American sitcoms (standard overacting trying to act funny procedure). “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” is realistic comedy and comedy with a tragic and a tragicomic Shakespearean dimension.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Phases"

“Phases” is Buffy doing the werewolf theme in horror. As usual when BtVS does their versions of genre pieces, however, “Phases” adds a twist to the werewolf subgenre.

In “Phases” it is Oz who is he monster of the week this week. Oz has been bitten by his baby nephew Jordy. Jordy, it turns out, like Oz’s Aunt Maureen and Uncle Ken, is a werewolf. When Oz learns matter of factly from his Aunt Maureen that he has become a werewolf as a result of Jordy’s bite Oz takes it in typical Oz stoical stride.

Though “Phases” has a monster of the week quality to it the episode, like so many other seemingly Buffy standalone episodes, moves seasonal and character arcs along. Buffy is experiencing the romantic fallout from “Surprise/Innocence” thanks to Angel going all Angelus and going over to Spike and Dru’s side. Cordy and Xander are still smooching though they have taken their kissage outdoors to “lover’s lane”. Xander is now jealous of Oz, obviously Willow means something to him, and he remains in love with Buffy, as Cordy notes. Willow wants her relationship with Oz to grow closer and more knowing in the biblical sense but Oz is pulling back or at least Willow thinks he is pulling back. Angelus appears and kills one of Buffy’s acquaintances, Theresa Klusmeyer, turning her into a vampire. When Buffy and Xander arrive at the funeral home to check out whether Theresa had been killed by a werewolf or something else that goes nasty in the night they discover that Theresa has been killed by a vamp. They learn that the vamp who killed Theresa is none other than Angelus himself as Theresa rises out of her coffin telling Buffy that “Angel sends his love”. Angel is, as he promised, starting to kill those around Buffy during his psychologically tinged campaign against the Slayer.

Previously on Buffy: Larry is back and is as much of a macho Neanderthal as ever. When Xander confronts him over being a werewolf—Xander connects a bite Larry received from a dog to werewolfness—Larry admits to Xander that he is gay. The admission liberates Larry. In a scene at the end of the episode, a scene that hearkens back to a scene in the teaser when Larry, showing off his machismo in front of his “Larryettes”, knocked books out of a Sunnydale High female student’s hands in macho male misogynous fashion, Larry picks up the books of a female student that have been knocked out of her hands by yet another Sunnydale High misogynous macho male. Larry no longer plays the macho male and seems comfortable in his new skin, his homosexuality. Xander is not fully comfortable with gay Larry, however.

Subtext Becoming Text: This episode, penned by Rob Des Hotel and Dean Batali, has a strong feminist component to it. Larry and Gib Cain the Hunter (Jack Conley) are misogynous macho men who verbally and sometimes physically terrorise women. Cordy, Willow, and Buffy complain about “men” during the course of the episode. When Giles describes a werewolf as acting on “pure instinct, without conscience, predatory and aggressive, Buffy responds by saying “In other words, your typical male”.

Awesome: Oz looking at the cheerleader statue in the Sunnydale High School hall. Oz claims that the eyes of the statue seem to move. And he is right as we know since this is the statue Amy’s mother is trapped in thanks to her spell in “The Witch”. Oz’s statement about today’s films being kind of like popcorn, you forget about them once they are done. So true. Buffy bending Cain’s rifle (phallic symbol?) at the end of the episode. Buffy power. Woman power.

The Gaze: Oz is shirtless as he transforms from werewolf back to Oz in the woods.

Slayer Secrets: Willow tells Buffy that she is supposed to protect her secret identity by being a “girly girl just like the rest of us” during self-defence class. Buffy tries but when Larry grabs her derriere and makes a typically Larry sexist remark Buffy slams him to the mat. Slayer power. Girl power.

Werewolf Lore: Buffy continues certain traditions in werewolf mythology. In “Phases” one can become a werewolf by being bitten by another werewolf and werewolves can be killed by silver bullets. Buffy also continues the mythological tradition that humans transform into werewolves during the “night of the full moon”. However, Buffy makes this transforming into a werewolf a three-night affair: the night of the full moon and the nights before and after the full moon. I don’t know enough about werewolf mythology to know how typical or atypical this three-night transformation is. What I do know is that “Phases” uses this three day transformation for comic and feminist effect by having Willow tell Oz at the end of the episode that “three days out of the month I'm not much fun to be around, either”. Willow follows up her admission by telling Oz that “So I'd still if you'd still”. Willow, in other words, is still in love with Oz despite the fact that he is a werewolf. Oz responds by telling Willow that, “I'd still. I'd very still”. He is as he says a “werewolf in love”. “Phases”, in other words, takes the Willow/Oz relationship to a new level.

Vampires and Werewolves: Angel and Werewolf Oz growl at each other but don’t fight each other.

Costumes: The werewolf costume in “Phases” is old school. It is not a special effect. I like old school. New school CGI is too easy and so unrealistic.

The Metaphor: Lycanthropy as metaphor for the changes that one goes through when one grows up?

Watch Your Language: Giles calls Cain a “pillock”, which in the sixteenth century referred to a cock, a penis. Today it is used to refer to someone who has done
something stupid or who is annoying.

The Chorus: After the emotional intensity of “Surprise/Innocence” “Phases” is a nice sometimes humourous breather that moves season two along.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Surprise/Innocence"

Since season one Buffy the Vampire Slayer has, to some extent, been building up to the events that take place in this episode. Shown originally on the WB on Monday 19 January 1998 and Tuesday, 20 January 1998 (Buffy now moved from Monday to Tuesday in the broadcast schedule and would remain there for its run on the WB) “Surprise/Innocence” is somewhat of a culmination of everything that has been happening in Buffy up to this point as well as, again to some extent, a transformation of everything in the series and a transformation of the lives of our Scoobies.

As season one and season two have progressed the innocence of our high school Scobbies has begun to teeter under the assault of vampires, monsters, and the realization by the Scoobies that good and evil are not always clear and that life is not always easy. In “Surprise/Innocence” Scooby innocence really takes a fall.

“Surprise/Innocence”, written by Marti Noxon and Joss Whedon, ties the loss of the innocence of our Scoobies to a series of surprise revelations that occur during the course of the episode. It is Buffy’s surprise birthday party that sets this loss of innocence in motion. At Buffy’s party the Scoobies learn that Dru is trying to reassemble “The Judge”, ”… a demon brought forth to rid the Earth of the plague of humanity... separate the righteous from the wicked... and to burn the righteous down”. As the episode plays itself out the events in this episode and what has been happening in Buffy since season one have consequences for our beloved Scoobies. Buffy looses her innocence, her virginity, to Angel at his apartment. Angel looses the innocence foisted on him by the gypsies leading to the resurrection of his less than innocent half Angelus. Willow looses her innocence about Xander when she discovers Cordy and Xander kissing among the library stacks. The Scoobies loose their innocence about Jenny Calendar (she is really Janna of the Kalderash, a gypsy sent to watch Buffy and Angel to assure that the vengeance (not justice) the gypsies cursed Angel for killing one of their beloved daughters continues). Giles looses his innocence about Buffy when he realizes that she and Angel have had sex. Oz looses his innocence about vampires when he sees one dusted by Buffy at her birthday party which he attends as Willow’s date. (“[I] explains a lot”).

The ending of “Surprise/Innocence” superbly condenses this loss of Scooby innocence. Buffy and Joyce are watching a movie. Joyce has brought in cupcakes to celebrate Buffy’s birthday. “JOYCE: So, did you have a fun birthday? What'd you do? BUFFY: I got older. JOYCE: You still look the same to me. She lights the candle, pushes the cupcake over to Buffy. JOYCE: Happy birthday. I don't have to sing, do I? Buffy shakes her head, looks at the candle. JOYCE: Well, go on. Make a wish. A moment before she replies. BUFFY: I'll just let it burn. Joyce puts her hand to Buffy's hair, touching it softly. Affection and vague concern on her face. Buffy puts her head in her mother's lap, brings her feet up onto the couch. They sit, Joyce playing gently with her daughter's hair. Buffy letting her eyes drift shut. The candle flickering bravely in the dark. FADE TO BLACK. END OF SHOW. This scene encapsulates the loss of innocence, tragedy, melancholy, sadness, horror, and pain, all things that have been present in Buffy since the very first episode but brings them all together at the same time for the very first time in an emotionally wrenching scene that rivals anything in the films of Anthony Mann or Ingmar Bergman and which made me cry profusely the first seven or eight times I watched this episode. It is one of the great scenes in all of Buffy and in all of film making.

Mise-en-scene: Much of the mise-en-scene reflects the theme of the loss of innocence that dominates “Surprise/Innocence”. The clothes the Scoobies are wearing, in particular, reflect the theme of loss of innocence in their play on light and dark. At the beginning of the episode Buffy is dressed in light or white clothing and Angel has on a white t-shirt. When Angel asks her what she wants for her birthday she has on a white jacket and a dress with white across her upper body and black bellow her midriff. After Buffy has sex with Angel she comes home wearing a light shirt and goes out wearing a black cloak. Angel wears his black leather jacket. The clothes of many of the other Scoobies also play on lightness and darkness. At one point in the episode Xander has on a dark blue shirt with white streaks, Cordy has on a white jacket and shirt and a dark skirt, and Jenny has on a dark top and a light skirt.

Candles: Candles are present at the Factory as Dru and her minions prepare for her coming out party for the Judge. They provide a bit of light amidst the darkness, literal and figurative, at the factory. At the end of the episode Buffy decides to let the birthday candles on her cupcake burn out and die just like her innocence.

The rain: It is raining when Buffy and Angel escape from certain death at the hands of the Judge. It is raining when Angel begins to turn into Angelus. It thunders as Angel becomes Angelus. The rain and thunder ends when Angelus says he is fine and that the pain (the pain associated with conscience?) is gone. Does the rain and thunder represent the turmoil of all that is going on thanks to Dru? the turmoil that is going on in Angel and Buffy? the turmoil that is going on in Angel? All of the above?

Music: The music by Christophe Beck marks, in my mind, the point at where Buffy really began to hit its orchestral stride. The music has a romantic and gothic quality to it that underlines what is going on narratively and visually. The Buffy-Angel theme is beautiful, romantic, and a bit sad all at the same time. The song in the film that Buffy and Joyce watch at the end of “Surprise/Innocence” contains the words “goodbye love”. Is Buffy saying goodbye to Angel?

Cinematography: Whedon has spoken of the sex scenes between Buffy and Angel with their fragmented images of Buffy and Angel and their alternating of light and dark (the loss of innocence? The darkness and light in us all?) as Lynchian, as indebted to filmmaker David Lynch. Scene at the Factory: Buffy and Angel are above on catwalks looking down on the Judge, Spike, and Dru. The Judge spies Buffy and Angel. I love the way the camera zooms from the Judge (his pov) onto Buffy and Angel. Scene at the mall: The Judge is in the midst of killing a number of those who “stink with humanity”. I love the camera moves from the Judge, Angel, and Dru to Buffy holding a crossbow and then a rocket launcher.

Scoobies: Oz becomes a kind of Scooby a la Cordy and Jenny.

Monster of the Week: The Judge or “the Smurf” as Buffy calls him. A demon who, as Giles notes, “…couldn't be killed[.] [A]n army was sent against him. Most of them died... but, uh, finally they were able to dismember him, but, uh... not kill him.

The Other Monster of the Week: Angel or Angelus. Angel’s curse is overturned when he has one moment of happiness. He has this moment of happiness when he has sex with Buffy. Angelus is a vampire who, as Dru notes, wants to do to Buffy what he did to her, mentally torture her to death. “To kill this girl”, Angel says to Spike, “you’ve got to love her”. Angel proceeds to attack Buffy mentally and also attacks her “friends”. He almost kills Willow during the Wild West like showdown between him, Xander, Jenny, and later Buffy at Sunnydale High School.

The Monsters of Season Two: It is now clear that Dru and Spike are not dead. Spike is severely injured, has injuries on his cheek, and is confined to a wheelchair. Spike, by the way, grounds Dru bringing her back to “sanity” when she is about to loose it.

Buffy’s Dreams: Buffy dreams four times during this episode. In Buffy’s first dream Dru is inside Buffy’s house, Willow is at the Bronze speaking in French about the animal cracker monkey she and Oz had spoken about at the end of “Who Are You”, Joyce is at the Bronze and asks Buffy if she really thinks she is ready after which she drops a cup and saucer, and Angel is at the Bronze where he is killed by Dru with a stake. The dream ends with Dru wishing Buffy a happy birthday. Later in the episode Joyce will drop a plate in her and Buffy’s house when when she and Buffy are discussing whether Buffy can take her driver’s test. Buffy, of course, becomes concerned that her dream is coming true and that Dru is alive and will kill Angel. Ironically it will be Buffy who will “kill” Angel by giving him that one moment of true happiness. Buffy also dreams that she and Giles opened an office supply store in Vegas (lol) during the same night. In the second dream Buffy dreams that she is at the Factory. There is a brief glimpse of Jenny followed by Dru killing Angel this time with a knife. In the last dream Buffy dreams she is in a graveyard along with Giles, Jenny, and Angel who tells her you have to know what to see. After this dream Buffy realizes that Jenny, who is dressed in funeral black as the old Angel is figuratively buried has “betrayed” her and the Scoobies. The surrealism of these dreams will be seen again in the dreams of the Scoobies in the fourth season episode “Restless”.

Mothers and Fathers and Daughters: David Greenwalt, says Whedon in the commentary to the second part of this episode, said that after watching the final scenes in “Surprise/Innocence”, the scene in which Giles tells Buffy after all that has just happened “Do you want me to wag my finger at you and tell you, you acted rashly? You did, and I can. But I know you loved him, and he has proven more than once that he loved you. You couldn't have known what would happen. The coming months are going to be very hard - I suspect on all of us. But if you're looking for guilt, Buffy, I'm not your man. All you will have from me is my support... and my respect” and the scene in which Joyce lovingly celebrates Buffy’s birthday, a scene which ends with a sad Buffy putting her head on her lap, that Buffy had the best parents ever. Awesome scenes.

Willow the Observant: Willow releases that Buffy has had sex with Angel before anyone else. Willow wonders how Jenny knew Angel had turned into Angelus.

Buffy the Comatose: Buffy goes briefly into a comatose state after her encounter with Angel at his apartment where he tells her how difficult it was to remain with her after they had sex and after Angel almost kills Willow at Sunnydale High. This is not the last time Buffy will go into a comatose state (see season five).

Bringing the Romance: There is lots of Buffy/Angel and Cordy/Xander kissage in “Surprise/Innocence”. After Willow tells Buffy what Buffy told Willow in the very first episode of BtVS, carpe diem, seize the day, Buffy decides to have sex with Angel. Angel gives Buffy a claddagh ring (Angel is Irish). He tells her that “[t]he hands represent friendship, the crown represents loyalty... and the heart... Well, you know... Wear it with the heart pointing towards you. It means you belong to somebody.” When Buffy and Angel go to Sunnydale’s port (Sunnydale is on or near the ocean)—Angel is going to leave Sunnydale with the arm of the Judge—his love for Buffy leads him to jump in the water to save her leaving Dalton to get away with the arm of the Judge. Angel they name is irresponsibility? According to the Judge Spike and Dru also “stink of humanity” because they share affection and jealousy. Willow asks Oz if he wants to make out. Oz responds by telling Willow that “Well, to the casual observer, it looks like you want to make your friend Xander jealous (Willow wants to make Xander jealous because she is angry that he is having a relationship with Cordy; “No. It just means you'd rather be with someone you hate (Cordy)...then be with me”). Or even the score, or something. That's on the empty side. You see, in my fantasy, when I'm kissing you... you're kissing me.” Oz really likes Willow. Watch Allyson Hannigan’s face as she responds purely physically to Oz’s speech: Willow’s facial expressions tell us that Willow has fallen for Oz.

Love is a Bitch: After Jenny betrays the Scoobies she comes to the library to see if there is anything she can do to help in the struggle against Dru, Spike, Angel, and the Judge. Buffy and Giles tell her to get out. To say the least the Jenny/Giles relationship has hit another bump in the road. Cordy is upset that Xander is once again running off to save his “beloved Buffy”.

Bringing the S&M: Angel kisses then pushes Buffy to the floor at Sunnydale High School just after Xander has saved Willow from death at the hands of Angelus.

The Gaze: Angel is shirtless twice during the episode.

A Little Man on Man Action: Angel kisses Spike on the forehead after taunting him.

Laugh at Loud: Cordy inappropriately shouting “surprise” (one of the main themes of the episode) at the Bronze as Buffy makes her entrance through a window fighting a vamp. Xander telling the miniskirted Cordy to wear something “trashy-er”. Xander’s “I'm seventeen. Looking at linoleum makes me wanna have sex.” Xander says this when he is using the knowledge about the military he gained when he was soldier guy in “Halloween”.

Watch Your Language: Spike calls Dalton, his intellectual vampire minion, a “wanker”. Dalton, who makes his first appearance in “What’s My Line” makes his last appearance in the Buffyverse in “Surprise/Innocence”. He is killed by the Judge because of his love for reading and knowledge.

Production: Whedon was originally going to have Buffy lose her innocence to Angel at her house. After he found that this scene was not working he moved the scene to Angel’s flat. The choreography of the fight scenes keep improving. Speaking of fight choreography note the intensity with which Buffy pushes Jenny to her desk after Buffy finds out that Jenny has betrayed the Scoobies.

Sets: Love the sewer tunnels under the Factory. Nicely done.

High Culture Reference: In Buffy’s first dream Dru stakes Angel. Just before he dies he reaches out his hand towards Buffy as Buffy reaches out her hand towards him. The image of their two hands reaching out toward one another recalls Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” in the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

Popular Culture Reference: Angel references all of those 1930s Hollywood film where a young person moves to New York City to make his/her name on Broadway and becomes a star after filling in for a star who breaks her ankle just before the show opens.
The Metaphor: Hey teenage girls beware of that guy, particularly that guy who is “exactly wrong” for you, who is so romantic and so loving until her gets into your pants and who once he does tells you he’ll call you. Yeah sure. Sex can have “appalling consequences”. These are Whedon’s words in quotations.

The Chorus: “Surprise/Innocence” is an extraordinarily powerful piece of film making. It is one of the finest television shows or films I have ever seen. As I mentioned earlier it packs the emotional wallop of a Bergman film but a Bergman film leavened with wit, humour, and lots of narrative surprises. It is an intense emotional roller coaster ride.

Awesome: Angel killing the cigarette smoking woman of “of ill, if not actively professional, repute” exhaling her cigarette smoke just after he has removed his fangs into her neck. Buffy killing the Judge with a rocket launcher (not a weapon forged). Buffy kicking Angel in the balls during their epic fight just after Buffy has slain the Judge. Can you say vicarious thrill?

Foreshadowings: Buffy wants to get her drivers license as she tells Joyce. Buffy on the way to adulthood? This is not the last time Buffy will bring this up (see “Band Candy” in season three). “Surprise/Innocence” begins a tradition of bad things happening on Buffy’s birthday. Xander imagines a Buffy/Angel future where Buffy will be a “Denny's waitress by day, (Giles looks up, too) Slayer by night -- and Angel's always in front of the TV with a big blood belly, and he's dreamin' of the glory days when Buffy still thought this whole creature of the night routine was a big turnon”. In season six Buffy will work at a fast food restaurant for a while.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Bad Eggs"

Previously on Buffy: Jonathan is back and this time he is possessed by the bezoar. Poor Jonathan. He’s like a bad things happen to me magnet.

Playing with Genre: “Bad Eggs” written by Marti Noxon, is a riff on the taken over by an alien subgenre of science fiction a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In “Bad Eggs” a parasitic creature who lives under Sunnydale lays eggs which, when they hatch, take control of humans through neural clamping, suck the energy out of those they take control of, and use humans to do her will. The bezoar apparently intends, a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers, to send her eggs to all parts of the US (and the world) using them to take over humans and making them do her will (which is?).

Themes: Joyce (sternly) to Buffy: “A little responsibility is all I ask”. Joyce, of course, is unaware that Buffy does have responsibilities. Saving the world from vampires” being primary amongst them. Joyce also refers to Buffy as irresponsible. Whether Buffy, who is busy smooching with Angel when she should be hunting the Gorch’s is taking that responsibility seriously and is being responsible is an open question. But then we shouldn’t forget that Buffy is a teenager. Buffy is not the only Scooby who is a “helpless slave to” her “passions” in this episode. Xander and Cordy have a case of the smoochies early in the episode. They return to the closet to engage in more kissage later in the episode.

Scooby Weirdness: Both Willow and Buffy notice that Cordy and Xander are “getting weirder”. Why they are acting weirder will be revealed later in season two (“Becoming”).

Moral: Buffy episodes often have moral lessons attached to them. “Bad Eggs” is no different. The Scoobies are in a sex education class and are given eggs that they are to treat as their babies (another high school ritual?). Buffy, since there were odd numbers in the class, is a single mother with egg (Egbert). “I am doomed to lead my mother’s life!”, says Buffy. Though Buffy experiences bad sleep thanks to the bezoar preparing to take her over, Joyce interprets her tiredness as a lesson she is learning as a result of being a single mom. “Wait till it (Buffy’s baby) starts dating” Joyce tells Buffy.

Character: Willow is Jewish. Lyle and Tector Gorch are vampires from Abilene (Texas?). According to Giles they massacred a Mexican village in the 1800s, before they were vampires. Lyle seems to live by the live to fight another day motto. He runs from Buffy at the mall and at the end of the episode when Buffy kills the bezoar. He will be back in season three. When Buffy thinks of her future all she sees in it is Angel.

Who Died and Made Her The Boss?: Willow gives orders while under the control of the bezoar.

Mothers and Daughters: Joyce grounds Buffy and confines her to her room in this episode. Buffy was also “grounded” in “Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest”.

Vampire Lore: Angel cannot procreate.

Slayer Lore: Tector comments that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is “so cute and little”.

Bringing the Shakespeare? Willow refers to Cordy as “soliloquy girl”.

Music: The score comes from Murray and Clement. I like the march of the possessed music that is heard when the bezoar takes over Willow, Giles, Cordy, Joyce, and others and is heard while they remove the concrete over the bezoar and take its eggs to be distributed (presumably) to all points east and west.

Popular Culture: “Bad Eggs” contains another reference to Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. Lyle Gorch, one of the brother vampires in “Bad Eggs”, was the name of a character in “The Wild Bunch”. We see Buffy for the first time (and I think last time) shopping at the mall. Lyle Gorch is at the mall looking for victims. He finds one. Buffy saves her.

Awesome: Buffy crawling out of the pit after she kills the bezoar.

Foreshadowings: During Buffy/Angel smooches in the cemetery the camera pans right from Buffy and Angel kissing to a gravestone with “In Loving Memory” written on it. Is this a foreshadowing of what is to come in the Buffy/Angel relationship? Is it a foreshadowing of the coming of Angelus in the next episode (“Surprise/Innocence”) and the changes in the Buffy/Angel relationship this will lead to?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Buffy Blog "Ted"

Previously on Buffy: The fallout from Jenny’s possession by Eyghon and the resulting stepping back from her relationship with Giles in “The Dark Age” is back. Giles goes to see Jenny to see how she’s doing. Jenny tells Giles that she needs time and space. “I've stayed out of mortal danger for three whole weeks. I could get used to it. Still don't sleep too well, though”, she tells Giles. When Giles goes out patroling because Buffy has “killed” Ted, Jenny follows and accidentally shoots Giles in the derriere with an arrow. By the end of the episode Jenny and Giles have reconciled and are kissing. Ah! The events of “What’s My Line” are referenced and the Scoobies wonder whether Spike and Dru are still alive or not. Xander and Cordy continue their relationship in secret (Cordy wants it that way) in a Sunnydale High School utility closet. Xander complements Cordy on what she is wearing. Where is that angry verbal wit, Xandman?

Playing with Genre: “Ted”, penned by Whedon and Greenwalt and directed by Bruce Seth Green, plays with the 1950s domestic sitcom and the image of America and American manhood and womanhood portrayed on American television during that era. Ted is a salesman (the “salesman of the year”) and “citizen of they year” who doesn’t “take orders from women”, who uses quaint terms like “malarkey” and who has several skeletons in the closet, four to be precise.

The Metaphor: There is, of course, a great deal of satire and parody in “Ted”. “Ted” takes aim at the 1950s notion that father knows best and that mother should stay at home taking care of domestic life. Ted’s underground lair, the script describes it as 1950s kitschy, has a 1950s vibe to it as Cordelia notes. The other metaphor at play is the stepfather and stepdaughter relationship. Buffy is not handling Joyce’s relationship with Ted well. She is a somewhat immature teenager, after all. Nor does she trust Ted finding him to be too perfect. She finds out very quickly that beneath Ted’s citizen of the year, salesman of the year, smiling and friendly middle class exterior--he even prays--lurks someone obsessed, in an over the top, way about family, “fairness”, “the rules”, what is right, and proper relations between men and women (“Don’t I always tell you what to do?”, Ted asks Joyce). Finally, Ted is drugging people to make them mellow and compliant, 1950s conformists? “Ted” then is a feminist critique of 1950s domestic ideologies.

Psychoanalysis: Whedon and Greenwalt express one of the metaphors of “Ted” by having Willow tell Buffy that she is experiencing separation anxiety, the fear that her mother may be taken away from her, and anxiety over separation from her father. Buffy wants her mother and father to get back together rather than have her mother hook up with Ted. Buffy takes out her anxieties on a vampire at the park who she, as Giles notes, “…beats into a bloody pulp”. As Giles notes all of this subtext is rapidly becoming the text as all that is repressed by Buffy is coming to the surface, in "Ted".

Bringing the Tragedy: The “real” Ted Buchanan was an inventor whose wife left him. He built “Robot” Ted probably to presumably become the man she wanted him to be. “Robot” Ted kidnapped “Real” Ted’s wife. She died in captivity. He has since apparently married other women, other women who look like his first wife. Joyce is the fifth.

Character: Joyce: “[M]en [aren’t] beating down (Joyce’s)…door since she is a “single parent”. Joyce is lonely which is, as Angel notes, one of the scariest things there is. Buffy: The Scoobies think that Buffy is overreacting to Ted. This will not be the last time that they will think that Buffy is overreacting. Buffy doesn’t bruise easy. She is the Slayer after all. Buffy is wearing overalls.

Vampire Slayage: Giles dusts a vamp.

I Get It: There are all sorts of hints that Ted is a robot: “I’m not wired that way” and the reference to the Stepford Wives, the 1975 Ira Levin book and 1975 film of the same name about men getting rid of their feminist wives and replacing them with compliant domesticated robots.

Popular Culture: Willow and Xander argue about who the real power in the 1970s and 1980s popular pop duo The Captain and Tennille was. In a line deleted from the episode Willow argues that it was the Captain because “I’m just saying that if Tennille were in charge, she would have had the little captain hat.” Xander argues that the Captain was Tennille’s puppet.

Music: Christophe Beck’s score for “Ted” is ramping up the orchestral. Like it.

Sound and Silence: Nice use of sound (footsteps, footsteps on stairs). Love the sounds associated with vampire dustage. Love that Whedon, Greenwalt, and Green allow silences to dominate a scene as it does when Joyce drives Buffy home after she thinks she has killed Ted. Very effective at setting a mood.

The Chorus: “Ted” is a standalone episode with a monster of the week, the 1950s father knows best, salesman of they year”, and citizen extraordinaire Ted, who turns out to be a robot. At the same time “Ted” also moves several Buffy arcs alone: the Jenny/Giles arc and the Angel/Buffy arc, for example.

Foreshadowings: Buffy believes she has killed a human (“He was a person and I killed him”) and is troubled by it. Buffy’s anxiety over killing a human will be counterpointed against how Faith reacts to killing a human in the season three episode “Bad Girls/Consequences”. Interestingly, Detective Stein, who makes his first appearance in Ted, will also investigate the death of the deputy mayor in that episode and question Faith and Buffy, again. The Buffy and Joyce scene on the porch at the end of the episode (“we're Thelma and Louising it again”) is not the last time we will see a Buffy and Joyce domestic scene. “Surprise/Innocence” is coming shortly. This is not the first time nor will it be the last time that someone, in this case it is Ted, invades the “safe” domestic sphere of Buffy and Joyce (“This house is mine”, Buffy tells Ted as she knocks him out). Darla, of course, invaded Joyce’s and Buffy’s hearth and home in “Angel” in season one.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Upstairs Downton

I am really sick of the comparisons in the press of the new revived Upstairs, Downstairs (BBC, 2010-) with Downton Abbey (ITV, 2010-). The revived Upstairs Downstairs is a very different show from Downton Abbey though the latter clearly riffs on, or is paying homage to, the upstairs downstairs and downstairs downstairs relationships of the "original" Upstairs, Downstairs. Where they are similar, in other words, is in the character traits of those downstairs--Downton has its own Mr. Hudson, Mrs. Bridges, and Ruby in Mr. Carson, Mrs. Patmore, and Daisy--the relationships between those downstairs, and the relationships between those downstairs and those upstairs.

Upstairs, Downstairs, of course, is not the only influence on Downton Abbey as several critics have noted. Downton has obviously also been influenced by the Jane Austen industry, the BBC Forsythe Saga (1967), and the film Gosford Park directed by the legendary Robert Altman and written by Downton's creator Julan Fellowes (Fellowes script was based on Altman's and Bob Balaban's original ideas for the film). Fellowes has also been accused of ripping off a host of British film and TV landmarks beyond Upstairs, Downstairs such as Mrs. Miniver (1942), specifically the ripping off of the annual flower competition in Mrs. Miniver in episode three of Downton, Brideshead Revisited (ITV, 1981) with its rural manor house, and the "reality" show the Edwardian Country House/Manor House (Channel 4 and PBS, 2002).

While Downton may have been influenced by the original Upstairs, Downstairs (ITV, 1971-1975) Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey are also very different shows. Compared to Upstairs, Downstairs Downton Abbey, whose narrative is centred around the impact of the law of entail on the Crawley family, particularly the daughters, and on the Abbey itself, is more formal, more rural, and more apolitical in its narrative than the new Upstairs Downstairs which, like the old Upstairs, Downstairs, is centred on a family, in the case of the revived Upstairs on the Holland family and their servants, and is more intimate, more urban, and more political in its narrative than Downton Abbey. Asserting that both the new Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey are the same because they both have masters and servants in them is akin to arguing that Degrassi High, a dramedy, and Saved by the Bell, a sitcom, are the same because they are both teen high school shows.

I really liked both Downton Abbey and the revived Upstairs, Downstairs. Admittedly, I was a bit put off by the first episode of the revived Upstairs, Downstairs but once I watched the second episode I was hooked. I find the "new" series very much like the old mixing a bit of fact with the a lot of fiction. I hope I will be able to see a lot more of it in the future.

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”.