Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Buffy Blog: "Real Me"

“You don’t belong here”. Buffy has a sister. Buffy has a sister? Though we viewers only met Buffy’s sister Dawn (Michelle Tractenberg) at the end of “Dracula vs. Buffy” last week everybody else in the Buffyverse, Buffy, Joyce, Willow, Tara, Riley, Xander, Anya, and Giles, seems to know Dawn and seem to have known her for sometime just as she seems to have known them for sometime. Dawn, Michelle Tractenberg, even appears in the opening credits. I kept waiting for this “Superstar” moment to end in this episode but it never does.

“Real Me” is structured around and centred on Dawn’s diary entries, diary entries about herself and the Scoobies which serve as an economic and elegant way for “Real Me’s” writer David Fury to introduce viewers to Dawn, to recapitulate where the Scoobies are at this point in their character arcs in Buffy, and to introduce new viewers to all of the major characters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Dawn’s diary entries also serve as voice over narration throughout significant parts of the episode.

There are two mysteries of the week that weave their way through “Real Me”. Who killed Mr. Bogarty, the current owner of the Magic Box, and who is this Dawn who seems to have appeared suddenly and literally out of nowhere and who appears to be Buffy’s sister and is accepted by everyone in the Buffyverse as the Slayers sister.

“We kill the Slayer tonight”. The Big Bad of this week is Harmony, something we viewers should have known as soon as we learned that a $12.95 tasteless ceramic unicorn is missing from the Magic Box (remember that unicorn poster on Harmony’s and Spike’s cave wall in “Harsh Light of Day”, 4:3?). Also missing is the book Buffy and Giles have come to the Magic Box to buy, A Treatise on the Mythology and Methodology of Vampire Slayers, a book Buffy needs now that she is back in training with Giles. Willow and Tara arrive at the Magic Box at the same time as Giles, Buffy, and Dawn do to pick up some charms they have on back order.

Harmony and her minions, Brad, Mort, Peaches, and Cyrus, have taken the Treatise from the Magic Box because they need it to help them in their plan to kill the Slayer. As is often the case with Harmony’s plans—Buffy reminds her of the bad things that happened when she was head cheerleader and head of the homecoming committee—her plans generally “suck”. And suck Harmony's plans do from the get go.

When Harmony and her gang arrive at 1630 Revello to call Buffy out—Harmony throws a rock through Buffy’s window requesting that she come out and die in red marker with a happy face over the “I” in die—the Slayer is out hunting for whoever killed Mr. Bogarty. When Harmony is accidentally invited into 1630 by a Dawny who thinks that Xander is cool and treats her like the woman she is and says that Xander will, if she comes inside, kick her-, inside Harmony comes. The Harmony who comes inside Buffy’s house, may be a new a Harmony, a Harm who has been working out, learning some new tricks, and honing her instincts, a Harmony who is no longer the hair pulling pushover she was in “The Initiative” (4:7), but this new Harmony, as Spike points out later in the episode, is still an amateur and should leave the slaying to the professionals like, one presumes, him. Harm and Xander fight. And while Xander may not have kicked her- he is able to kick the new and improved self confident Harmony in the gut sending her flying out the front door locking it behind her managing so she can’t get in and once again saving the day at least for the moment. Another Harmony plan ends in suckiness.

“She’s a kid”. When Buffy returns from patrolling with Riley and complaining about Dawn while patrolling with Riley, she finds the idea of an empowered Harmony calling her out to kill her even funnier than Xander did when Harmony told him her plan. The laughter doesn’t last for long, however. Buffy learns that Dawn accidentally invited Harm inside to 1630. Not willing to chalk the “accident” up to the fact that Dawn is, as Xander, Riley, and Tara keep saying, “a kid”, Buffy tells the Scoobies that by coddling and protecting little Dawn the Scoobies are “…turning Dawn into a little idiot who’s going to get us all killed!”

Hearing everything Buffy yells Dawn runs past an Anya who is in the kitchen, out the back door, and into the almost waiting arms of Harmony’s minions. An injured Anya, who has been punched by Mort, tells Buffy, Xander, and Riley that Dawn has been taken somewhere by the Harmony Gang.

Since it is Tuesday it's Buffy to the rescue. Our Slayer pumps, well really punches Spike several times in the nose to obtain information about where Harmony is living these days. Learning that Harmony and her gang are holed up in a cave Buffy arrives at Harmony’s lair just in the nick of time. Unwilling to follow Harmony’s plan for keeping the sister of the Slayer alive to draw her to their lair—why keep Dawn alive when the Slayer is coming anyway notes Cyrus”—there has been a rebellion in the Harmony ranks and Harmony’s minions now plan to feed off the Slayer’s sister and kill Harmony. Another Harmony plan gone bad.

Just as Dawn warns the Harm Gang that “[m]y sister is so going to kill you”, it’s Buffy to the rescue, again. The Buffster stakes Cyrus telling him as she does it that Dawn did, after all, warn him. With Cyrus dead and Harmony fleeing a battle between our Slayer and Peaches, Brad, and Mort ensues. Buffy defeats Gang Harmony, Mort with some effort and difficulty, and with Dawn saved for the first time the dueling Summer’s sisters threaten to tell Joyce about each others recent failings when they get home. When Buffy and Dawn arrive home they don’t however, and Dawny even admits that it was pretty okay that Buffy didn’t tell Joyce about her rather reckless behaviour.

“Nobody knows who I am. Not the real me. It's, like, nobody cares enough to find out…”. “Real Me” is, of course, a Dawn centric episode. On one level Dawn comes off as really pouty and annoying thanks to all her huffing and puffing about how nobody, save Xander, takes her seriously, how Buffy, she who saves the world, is her mom’s favourite, how, if she were a superhero she would wear a cool mask and take on a cool superhero name to protect the loved ones Buffy doesn’t even. Buffy not protecting her loved ones?

Dawn, however, really is “a kid”, despite her protestations against being called one by Riley. Sorry to pile on Dawny. She is also a lot like her sister when we first met the Slayer way back in season one. Like Buffy Dawn is a bit self-centred, overly self-confident, and rather self-satisfied. That said, it must be remembered that it must be tough living in the shadow of the one girl in all the world, the chosen one, the Slayer.

“You don’t belong here”. Hovering beneath the surface whimsy of this getting to know Dawn, getting to know about the sisterly competitiveness and jealousies between her and Buffy, and the hilarity of the Harmony as a Big Bad with minions aspects of this episode, there is something deadly serious and decidedly unsettling going on. As I watched “Real Me” I had an eerie and foreboding feeling about Dawn thanks to two things that occur in the episode. The first is when, as the script says, a, “[a] raving LUNATIC - dressed in a stained and torn business suit and tie; his face and hands are filthy, his hair matted, his eyes… the haunted look of one who's seriously deranged”, comes up to Dawny and says, “What are you doing HERE?... I know you… curds and whey…I know what you are… You don't belong here” at the end of act one. Curds and whey, of course, is a clear reference to Faith’s little miss muffet speech in “Graduation Day” and yet another “Restless” moment in season five. The second is Dawn’s monologue that ends the episode—“She still thinks I'm little miss nobody, just her dumb little sister. Boy, is she in for a surprise”—a monologue that made me wonder just who little miss nobody, a self description that again eerily recalls the “little miss muffet” of “Graduation Day”, really is and what surprise she has in store for our Slayer and our Scoobies. Is Dawn the Big Bad of season five?

“I’ve found the real me and I like her”. As is often the case in Buffy there are some significant character developments in the lives of our Scoobies in the “Real Me”. Buffy, as I already mentioned, now has a little sis. Giles is once again training Buffy. Her “zen-like” and very impressive one hand hand stand complete with mystical crystals—I couldn’t help but think of the crystals in another David Fury penned episode, Helpless” (3:12) as I was watching this—is disrupted by Dawny in a very annoying can we go now way in the teaser. Can you say in character? By the way, Buffy stunt man and woman Jeff Pruitt and Sophia Crawford were replaced by John Medlen and Melissa Baker at the beginning of season five bringing a more athletic and very appropriate given that Buffy is getting more proficient quality to the stunt choreography of the show.

Giles finally has a new car, a sporty red BMW that Giles says seduced him. Giles’s sexy new BMW, which he has some problems driving, replaces the old Citreon DS that was apparently totaled by a Spike fleeing the Initiative in “A New Man” (4:12). At the end of the episode Giles has taken over the Magic Box with its Slayer training room in the back, despite, as Buffy tells him, the life expectancy of a Magic Box owner is about as long as that of a Spinal Tap drummer (shout out to the 1984 Christopher Guest, Michael McKean Harry Shearer, and Rob Reiner 1984 mocumentary about a self absorbed hard rock band, This is Spinal Tap).

Xander, Dawny tells us, is working in construction again. Wonder how long this job will last? Anya learns that in ooh the Game of Life you may be burdened with a husband and several tiny pink children and more cash than you can reasonably manage, but that cash, as Xander says, equals good. Anya tries to trade in the children for more cash. Can you say in character?

Willow is taking drama in the upcoming term at UC, Sunnydale. This is a major step for our Scooby witch given Willow's fear of drama in "Nightmares" and "Restless". Buffy had to drop drama, which doesn't make Willow happy, because of her new Slayer training schedule.

Tara and Dawn feel like non-Scooby outsiders. Tara tells Willow that the “Scooby circle” have this really tight bond that’s really hard to break into even if you want to and she is not sure she wants to. Willow tries to assure Tara that she really is one of the gang, one of the good guys. A good guy? Really? What about that time she undermined the demon finding spell in “Doomed” (4:11).

Willow and Tara are still doing, as Dawn says, the magic spells and stuff which she finds so much cooler than slaying and that she once told her mom that she would really like to learn more about. Dawn has memories of life in Scoobyland. After making that suggestion Joyce got, Dawn says, really quiet and made her go upstairs. Though Dawn thinks Joyce and her generation are rather close-minded about witch stuff it is more likely that she doesn’t want fourteen year old Dawn to know about the secrets of lesbian love yet. Oops, forgot, there really is no conflict here because Buffy has, at times, made the connection between witch stuff and lesbian sex and lesbian love Buffy remains as protective of “kid” Dawn as Joyce at the end of “Real Me” telling her, as she goes off to see the training room at the back of the Magic Box with Giles, that she should not break anything, not touch anything, just keep doing what she is doing—writing in her journal at a table—and not even move. Buffy thy name is overly critical mother hen.

The Chorus. Wonderful episode penned by David Fury and directed David Grossman that introduces us to a new but at the same time a seemingly, at least in the eyes of the other Scoobies, old character in the Buffyverse, Buffy’s sister and Joyce’s daughter Dawn. “Real Me” lays down a mystery that, at least at this point, seems like it is going to last longer than the two episodes that we have seen Dawn in up to this point. Additionally, “Real Me” moves the character arcs of almost every one of our Scoobies along and I always like that.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Buffy Blog: "Buffy vs. Dracula"

“Buffy vs Dracula” is the first season premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that Buffy’s creator Joss Whedon hasn’t written. During seasons one through four Whedon wrote many if not most of the most important season beginning and season ending episodes of Buffy. His season one premiere “Welcome to the Hellmouth”/“The Harvest” brought Buffy from Los Angeles to Sunnydale and saw the formation of the Scooby gang to fight the evil in their hellmouth midst. His season ending “Prophecy Girl” saw Buffy reject and then accept her Slayer responsibilities even when it meant certain death at the hands of the Master. Fortunately for Sunnydale and for us viewers Xander was there to resurrect Buffy from her death prophecy foretold. His season two premiere “When She Was Bad” saw Buffy return from her father’s place in LA to resume her Slayer duties even though she did have a chip on her shoulder for most of that episode because of her death and the never ending fight against evil that seemed to be a vampire Slayer’s lot. His season two ending “Becoming” gave us a Buffy who chose her Slayer duties over house, family, and love of life and then leave them and the Scoobies behind as she rode a bus out of town. His season three premiere “Anne” gave us a Buffy trying to escape her Slayer responsibilities by living and working in LA but who was unable to do so because even in LALAland there was evil and old acquaintances in her midst. At episodes end Buffy returned to Sunnydale to once again live the ever angsty life of a Slayer. His season three ending “Graduation Day” found the Scoobies not only graduating from high school but stopping yet another of the seemingly endless apocalypses that seem to be their lot. His season four premiere “The Freshman” brought Scoobies Buffy, Willow, and Oz to college and a Xander who was lost to a basement in his parents home and for which he had to pay rent. His season ending “Restless” prepared the narrative ground for the Scooby journeys apparently to come in season five and beyond.

“Buffy vs. Dracula”, the season five premiere written by Marti Noxon and directed by David Solomon, is Buffy’s spin on yet another Hollywood horror classic. Over its four previous seasons Buffy the Vampire Slayer has done Frankenstein, season two’s “Some Assembly Required”, The Mummy, season two’s “Inca Mummy Girl”, and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon, season two’s “Go Fish”. In “Buffy vs Dracula” Buffy does Dracula.“

“I’m Dracula”. On the narrative level “Buffy vs. Dracula” is about the new vampire, the new monster of the week, in town. The new vampire in town, as the new vamp in Sunnydale tells Buffy during a conversation between him and the Slayer in one of Sunnydale’s many graveyards in act one, has come to Sunnydale to meet the “Killer” he has heard so much about, Buffy. The new vampire in town is Dracula (Rudolf Martin who played Vlad “The Impaler” Dracula in 2000’s Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula).

Buffy, Xander, and Willow are star struck when they meet Dracula. His reputation precedes him even in the Buffyverse. Later in Giles’s apartment where the Scoobies have gone to map out a strategy for how to deal with with the “glory hound”, as Spike later calls him, who revealed to the world what vampires were like and how they could be killed, Buffy, Xander, and Willow talk excitedly about their meeting the Dark Prince earlier that evening. Buffy, Willow, and Anya, who has met Dracula before when she was a vengeance demon, also talk about Dracula’s penetrating eyes and lilty accent sending Riley, Tara, and Xander into mild fits of jealously. Buffy is also enthralled by the fact that, as Dracula tells her, she, the Slayer, is known throughout the demon world. The Slayer as celebrity.

The narrative of “Buffy vs. Dracula” has a little bit of Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula in it. Xander plays the role of R.M. Renfield, a role that includes the bug and spider eating and a love of blood coloured jelly donuts. Falling under the thrall, Spike, who was, or so he claims, the Dark Prince’s rival, tells Riley that Dracula’s tricks are showy gypsy stuff, the script, refers to it as “going fully Renfield”, of his “Dark Master bator", Xander is forced to become Dracula’s “emissary”, his eyes and ears to the Slayer, during daylight. Buffy plays the role of Mina Harker who, when Dracula enters her bedroom in a scene reminiscent of the bedroom scenes between Buffy and Angel in season one (“Angel”) and season two (“Passions”), comes under the thrall of the Dark Prince who tastes Buffy in the very same spot and with the same sexual and erotic implications Angel did in order to save his life in “Graduation Day”. Xander, who has manoeuvered Buffy into the “safety” of his basement apartment while the other Scoobies are searching for Drac, takes Buffy to his “Master” when the sun goes down, as he is ordered. Giles plays the role of Jonathan Harker who, when he and Riley discover the castle in which Dracula is living in comes under the spell of the three Sisters, the erotic and sexually desirable Brides of Dracula, when he falls into a basement in a scene reminiscent of the scene in “Fear Itself” when Buffy falls into the basement in the frat house and is attacked by vampires. Instead of Abraham Van Helsing and his group of male vampire hunters to the rescue it is Buffy-there's that feminist Buffy spin again-who slays Dracula. After tasting Dracula’s blood the thrall has gone out of Buffy’s and Dracula’s relationship and after an epic battle between the two the Buffster stakes Dracula and he disintegrates into eurotrash.

The Journey Continues. Beyond the surface narrative of Dracula coming to town and the Scoobies figuring out how they are going to defeat him and finally defeating him, “Buffy vs. Dracula” explores a lot of the same character territory “Restless” did. “Buffy vs. Dracula” picks up where season four and “Restless” left off and has quite a few “Restless” moments in it.

“It’s always the blood”. At the heart of “Buffy vs. Dracula” are the character arcs, the character journeys, of Scoobies Buffy, Xander, Willow, and Giles. In “Restless” Chorus Tara told Buffy, “You think you know. What you are, what's to come… you haven't even begun“. In "Buffy vs. Dracula", Dracula repeats these very words to her. In “Buffy vs. Dracula” the Buffster begins to sense what she is and what has begun thanks to the first and thanks to Dracula. Dracula tells Buffy that she and he are kindred spirits. He tells her that the power she has is similar to the power he and other vampires have and that that the dark power they share is in their blood. Dracula tastes Buffy’s blood and Buffy tastes Dracula’s blood. When Buffy tastes the blood of Dracula she senses the power of a Slayer within it. She sees the face of the primitive, she sees the first in silhouette, and she experiences the thrill of the hunt, something, Buffy tells Giles, she has been doing since the Scoobies did the Combo Buffy spell, something Buffy does in the trailer to the episode. As the Master got stronger when he tasted Buffy’s blood, as Angel escaped death when he tasted Buffy’s blood, Buffy gets stronger after she tastes Dracula’s blood. There seems to be a link between Slayer and vampires and that link seems to be in the blood. Is season five going to explore Slayerness?

In “Restless” we learned that Xander had in the back of his mind the hope that someday he might become a Watcher. While Xander doesn’t get to play the role of Watcher Junior in “Buffy vs. Dracula” he does get to play the role of Dracula’s "butt monkey", a role he says he is playing for the last time. Will Xander escape the role of "butt monkey" forever?

It is Willow who actually gets to play the role of Watcher Junior in the episode. In a meeting at Giles’s apartment after a night of research on Dracula Willow details for the rest of the Scoobies what Dracula’s modus operandi is. Willow also continues to up the magicks. At the beginning of the episode the Scoobies, Anya, Tara, and Riley are having a picnic on the beach. Xander is unable to light the grill so Willow does thanks to her magicks explaining that it is easy as long as she balances the elements, so when you affect one you don't end up causing-Just then a thunderstorm comes in and Willow denies any responsibility for it. Since this scene is followed by Dracula’s arrival in Sunnydale it is possible that Willow is right that she didn’t cause the thunderstorm and that Dracula did so to cover his arrival in Sunnydale. But did he? What if Willow doesn't have her balancing act together?

At the beginning of “Buffy vs. Dracula” Giles appears to have found a solution to his season four mid life crisis, he is going, he tells Willow, to return to England. He even lets Willow play the role of Watcher Junior in preparation for the time in which he will no longer be by Buffy’s or the Scooby’s side. At the end of the episode, however, the best laid plans of former Watcher Giles to return to England are put on hold when Buffy tells him that since the Combo Buffy spell and the dream battle with the first she has been “hunting”, as Dracula called it, and that she needs his help to understand her power, the power Dracula hinted at. Buffy asks Giles to be her watcher again. Giles smiles. Giles is staying. Giles is going to be Buffy's Watcher again. Yeah!

Buffy, Xander, Willow, and Giles aren’t the only ones who get a “Restless moment. Spike calls Riley “cowboy” when Riley goes to Spike for help in finding Dracula. There is a lot of macho tension between the two and Riley tells Spike that while Buffy may not be willing to stake him now that he is helpless he doesn’t have any such problem. Shapes of things to come? Did you notice how Tara, unlike Willow, did not work the magicks?

“MOM!!” The other “Restless” moment that is at the heart of “Buffy vs. Dracula” is the counting down to 730 prophecy that we first heard in “Graduation Day” and heard again in “Restless”. In the last scene of “Buffy vs. Dracula” Buffy is back at 1630 Revello before dawn or after dawn, depending on your perspective, of day five of the episode. Joyce tells Buffy that if she and Riley are going to the movies that night she should take her fourteen-year-old sister Dawn with her. Buffy has a sister? Her name is Dawn? Is Buffy's sister what 730 and be back before dawn referred to?

It seems it is. In the season five “Featurette on Dawn” Joss Whedon says “We had set it [the arrival of Dawn] up in the end of season 3 with Faith saying, you know, 'counting down from 730' which is 2 years exactly by the day.” In his commentary to “Restless” Whedon says, “Buffy's dream [in “Restless”] has a lot of references to Dawn and what's going to happen next year [season five]…”Restless” is the first time mention was made of Dawn. It's also the time Michelle Trachtenberg actually came to visit the set. She had worked with Sarah [Michelle Gellar] before, and she was a big Buffy fan, and so she came to visit the set, and I met her that day. Sarah introduced us, and I spent some time talking to her, and afterwards Sarah said to me “You should get Michelle to read for the part of Dawn. She's just great.” And so I think there's some fate going on there. The fact that she showed up the first time the character was ever mentioned, and then went on to play her."

It’s off to season five…

The Chorus. Buffy vs. Dracula” does everything a season premiere episode of Buffy usually does. It nicely weaves the past into the present, and sets the stage for the future. There are some really funny bits in “Buffy vs. Dracula" from Xander attempting to cover up his slip of the tongue in the presence of the Scoobies at Giles's, calling Dracula his Master by adding “bator” to the end to Buffy returning to the scene of her eurotrashing of Dracula to stake him again, “You think I don’t watch your movies?”, she says. Buffy breaking the fourth wall again.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Embarrasment of Being...

Sometimes you read about, hear about, or see something that makes you think about being human. Over my fifty years plus of life I have read about, heard about, and seen a lot about what it means to be human and most of it has saddened and disturbed me.

To some extent I am a Shoah baby. I don’t recall exactly when I first learned about the reality of the Holocaust, probably some time in my teens and filled out when I went to university, but it, along with my asthma, how I was treated in junior high school by the pettiest and nastiest of humans, school boys and school girls, how I was treated at home by parents (the sins of the parents are always visited upon the children), my disappointment that the hope for a more humane United states and world that the Sixties seemed to promise was being smacked down by reality and being co-opted by the captains of consumerism, the most narcissistic form of capitalism, and my realisation, thanks to Vietnam, that the American government and American politicians (and governments and politicians in general) routinely lie and propagandise, have had an immense impact on who I am for good and, I am sure most of those who know me would say, for bad.

As I learned about the Holocaust, as I learned about what the Nazis did during the Holocaust, and as I learned about those Germans, Lithuanians, Poles, Ukrainians, and on and on, who stood by and watched or actively participated in the Holocaust the optimism and activism that was once a part of my life, a part of my life that made me work for civil rights and which led me to protest the war in Vietnam faded into the oblivion of past memory. I came to see humanity for what I believed and continue to believe it really was and is, intolerant, hateful, brutal, murderous, selfish, narcissistic. The Holocaust, by the way, also cured me of the foolishness that there was a personal god out there somewhere in the universe who cared about me, his supposed chosen people, or humanity in general.

What I learned later in college only confirmed what I already believed about humankind. As an undergraduate I became aware of Stanley Milgram and his 1961 experiments attempts to understand why so many ordinary Germans participated in the Holocaust or Shoah against Jews, Gypsies, intellectuals, and other “decadents” during World War II. Milgram decided that the only way he could answer this question experimentally was if volunteers in his experiment weren’t aware of the real nature of the experiment. So Milgram told his volunteers that the experiment they were participating in concerned memorization. Milgram divided the volunteers into two groups, “teachers” and “learners”. The “Learners”, it turns out, were actually assistants of Milgram who were aware of what the real nature of the experiment was. “Teachers”, who weren’t in on the secret, were instructed to read a pair of words from a list to the “learner”. If the “learner” made a mistake the teacher was told by the scientist leader to give the “learner”, who sat behind a screen and who the “teacher” had seen wired up to a voltage machine, an electric shock by flipping a switch on a board that had labels of “15 volts”, “slight shock”, to “450 volts”, “severe shock”. With each mistake made by the “learner” the voltage level was increased. As the experiment progressed “learners” began to scream in pain and asked “teachers” to stop shocking them. Those “teachers” who tried to stop were urged by the scientist leader to continue administering shocks to “learners” even when the “learners” claimed to have heart problems. Over half of the subjects administered shocks until they reached maximum voltage and “learners” were silent. As a result Milgram concluded that most people will follow orders when told to do so by a “proper authority”. And this we followed the orders of those in authority, he concluded, was the explanation for why so many Germans took part in the Nazi genocide against the Jews.

Also in college I became aware of Solomon Asch’s experiments. In 1952 Asch asked subjects to decide which of three lines most closely matched the length of a fourth line. The match was obvious and most of the subjects were able to answer correctly with no problem. Then Asch changed the experiment. He now asked subjects which of the lines matched but this time in a group setting where Asch placed associates of his masquerading as test subjects. Asch then had his associates match two clearly unequal lines. One-third of those subjects who weren’t associates of Asch, though they sometimes stammered and fidgeted before they gave their answer, discounted their own perceptions half of the time and gave the answer the faux subjects gave. Humans, in other words, often cave into peer pressure. In terms of an explanation for the Holocaust Asch’s research suggests that peer pressure was the reason so many Germans were personally involved in the genocidal war against the Jews.

Today in the Guardian I read an article by seven photographers who were asked to respond to the question of why instead of intervening in what were sometimes life and death situations they took photographs. Their responses are fascinating. Greg Marinovich blamed cowardice for his not intervening to save a man chased and killed by a mob in South Africa because he was a member of a different tribe than his pursuers and killers. Donna Ferrato who saw domestic violence first hand while following and photographing the everyday life of a couple in their home, said she was a photographer not a social worker. Ferrato did intervene the second time the husband attempted to hit his wife. Graeme Robertson saw, during pro-hunting protests he was covering, police brutalise one of the protestors who was not following orders. When the protestor asked Robertson for help he, as he says, “took a picture” while the protestor was dragged off”. Robertson writes about how mixed up he was the first time he covered a conflict but that over time he became immune to the brutality of the conflicts he covered. He goes on to say that his photographs actually aided the victims of such conflicts by documenting and publicizing them. Ian Berry saw a man stoned in the Congo as a result of tribe on tribe violence. Like Robertson, Berry talks about the disassociation between photographer and what is being photographed and says photographers are there to cover the facts. Ironically the man being chased and attacked escaped thanks to actions of another photographer Berry was travelling around Africa with, Tom Hopkinson. Oli Scarff who photographed a man trying to escape the scene of the stabbing crime he had just committed at the Notting Hill Carnival, wonders whether he would have had the courage to try to stop the man and talks about his conditioning as a photographer to document what was happening rather than intervening. Hampus Lundgren writes about the adrenaline rush that took over and which turned him into a photographer and not a person when he took a photograph of a man lying on the ground injured by the bomb blast that shook central Oslo in 2011 thanks to Anders Behring Breivik. Karem Okten talks about how the aggressiveness of rioters in the London riots of last year forced him to back off photographing them and of the fear that inhibited him from telling the rioters to stop. Radhika Chalasani talks about the need of documenting reality when she took a photograph of a young boy turned into near skeleton by the war and genocide in Sudan and about how she now not taking the children she saw to the Red Cross.

So what do the responses of these photographers tell us about being human? They tell us that there is a lot of the obey authority Milgram found among his human test subjects and the peer pressure Asch found in his human test subjects in the comments of most of these photographers. Photographers, almost all of our seven photographers claim, have a duty as professionals who are part of a guild to document what is happening, even when what is happening involves violence, murder, and genocide. They tell us that humans can readily and easily rationalise not intervening in a violent situation in the name of professionalism (there is something to be said for the historical documentation claim at least in the long term though initially most of the photographs will be fitted into the pre-existing cultural frames of their viewers) or bodily harm. A few of our photographers claim that they did nothing because of the physical or moral cowardice they felt. I felt something similarly, by the way, when I was living in Moscow and saw police, for no valid reason that I could tell, harass two young men who looked like they had been painting on the Moscow Metro. I did nothing though I was appalled by the actions of the police and thought and almost did say something about what was happening to my great shame. I was truly afraid of what might happen to me if I did say something to the militsia.

While some would attribute the “cowardice” of the photographers and me to the evolutionary impulse to save one’s own skin, I am not so sure that is all there is to it. I think that one of the important things that our photographers tell us about the violence they saw is that human violence is related to issues of identity and to ethnocentrism. Marinovich and Berry witnessed tribe on tribe violence. Us versus them violence. Ferrato witnessed the violence that comes out of the otherness of gender. Humpus witnessed the violence that comes out of the otherness of ideology and politics. Chalasani witnessed the violence that comes out of religious, ethnic, and national otherness. And the Holocaust, of course, was the product of religious, ethnic, political, artistic, sexual, and national otherness. Humans, in other words, have all sorts of ethnocentrism deep in their cultural “DNA”. It is this human cultural DNA that is one of the reasons why I, in part, am so utterly pessimistic about the species to which I belong, humankind. I certainly don’t expect a species that by and large brutalizes, puts down, tortures, hates, humiliates, and annihilates its own to respect other species they share the planet with or the very planet on which they live and which gave and gives them life. Welcome to the end of the world. Colour me very humanophobic.

“'I was gutted that I'd been such a coward': Photographers Who Didn't Step in to Help”

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Buffy Blog: "Restless"

From the vantage point of season four “Restless” seems an odd episode on which to end a season of Buffy particularly when you compare it to the adrenalin rushes of the previous season ending Buffy episodes “Prophecy Girl”, “Becoming”, and “Graduation Day”. From the perspective of seasons five through seven, however, “Restless” seems to take several themes that have haunted Buffy the Vampire Slayer—growing up, the psychological traumas of growing up, responsibility—and add a bit of new blood into the mix (pun intended)—the nature of Slayerness, in particular—to lay the thematic ground for the rest of Buffy from season four until its end in season seven. From this vantage point “Restless” is both the first episode of season five and the opening salvo in Buffy seasons five through seven.

In his commentary on “Restless” Buffy creator and “Restless” writer and director Joss Whedon calls “Restless” his attempt at verbal and visual free associating poetry. The visual qualities of “Restless” are similar, in many ways, to Whedon’s shooting of the Buffy and Angel sex scene in “Surprise”/“Innocence”, a style Whedon compares, in his commentary on “Innocence”, to the visual style of David Lynch. There is some Lynch in “Restless” as well thanks to its visual style, its poetic form, and it’s dreamscape as well as, according to Whedon in his commentary to the episode, the Orson Welles of The Trial, the Stanley Kubrick of Eyes Wide Shut, and the Steven Soderbergh of The Limey and The Underneath. In its focus on the subconscious or unconscious issues haunting our Scoobies in their dreams “Restless” shares a lot with the Buffy episodes “Nightmares” (1:10), “Halloween” (2:6), and “Fear Itself” (4:4) all of which explored the subconscious or unconscious fears of our Scoobies.

It is these dreams and the reason for them that make “Restless” more than simply a dreamscape of free association poetry. Free associating poetry “Restless” may be but it is also a linear—yes I have gone all linear on you Xander—narrative tale that probably contains more symbolism per square 43 minutes or so than any other episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or any episode of American television before it. Whedon structures “Restless” around the dreams of each of the Scoobies. The dreams of Willow, Xander, Giles, and Buffy constitute the four acts of “Restless”. These dreams take us into the minds of the Scoobies, just as “Nightmares”, “Halloween”, and “Fear Itself” did, to reveal the fears, fears very much tied to the theme of growing up, that is at the heart of Buffy, fears the Scoobies have which are generally left unsaid in their waking life.

Restless is a bit odd from the very get go. Unlike every other Buffy episode until now, “Restless” begins with the Buffy theme song and goes directly into a teaser. “Restless” opens shortly after the battle between Adam and the Scoobies that we saw in “The Yoko Factor” and “Primeval”. The Scoobies Willow, Xander, Giles, and Buffy are together at 1630 Revello for the first time in season four. Riley is with them. He is facing a debriefing at the Initiative "in the morning". He expects to be discharged from the Initiative with an honourable discharge because of his role in saving the day and the knowledge he has of the governments own “Bay of Mutated Pigs”, as he puts it, so he leaves but not before Joyce pointedly, as she says, says it is nice to meet him. Shades of Buffy keeping Angel a secret from Joyce.

With Riley gone the Scoobies, still feeling the adrenalin rush of battle, tell Joyce that they won’t be able to sleep and so they are going to watch a film. Xander wants to watch Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 Apocalypse Now but Willow and Buffy prefer a chick flick while Giles prefers a British guy flick, something Xander has, in his video choices, has already prepared for. With Joyce in bed upstairs because she is tired the Scoobies are soon asleep downstairs as well.

“Camera moves slowly to…face”. Restless” begins in normal Buffy “realist” mode (every book, film, and TV show creates its own sense of “normal” “reality” that viewers either accept or reject). As we enter the dreamscapes of each Scooby, however, Whedon takes us into a theatre within a theatre (the rehearsal and the performance of the reflexive "Death of a Salesman"), a film within a film (the riff on Apocalypse Now), and a television show within a television show (Xander plying his trade as ice cream salesman as Dream Xander-voyeuristically a la Hitchcock-watches) world, theatrical, filmic, and televisual worlds which Whedon, throughout most of “Restless”, plays with in somewhat Brechtian alienation effect fashion.

In “Restless” Whedon undermines the “realism” the series has built up over the previous four seasons. Each of our Scoobies dreams in “Restless” are built, on one level, around journeys, the journeys of each of our Scoobies toward growing up and the psychic traumas that result from those journeys. Each of the dreams begin with Whedon panning his camera slowly up to the faces of each of our Scoobies. Once inside Whedon’s dreamscapes we see a very different Buffyverse. We see a Buffy who is flapper in Lulu wig, a Riley who is Cowboy Man (“Restless” has apparently made him into John Wayne, a reference to Buffy’s “Who died and made you John Wayne” quip in “The Initiative”) and, along with Adam, a World Domination Guy, a Harmony who is a European milkmaid peasant girl with braids, a Giles who is a theatre director who finally gets the before the show theatre circle right (a reference to “The Puppet Show” where his speech in the circle was less than motivating), acting that is sometimes self-conscious, a Giles and Anya who speak dubbed French in a scene at UC, Sunnydale, a Joyce who is trapped in a wall, exterior dayscapes, including dayscapes in the desert, which are overexposed, interior shots that are blue, green, and orange thanks to blue, green, and orange gels, interior shots in black and white, the use of a 17 mm lens to give a sense of motion along the walls in Buffy’s house and at UC, Sunnydale, rear screen projections playing the role of rear screen projections, steadicam tracking shots as Xander wanders from set to set, negative images of Buffy as she goes all primitive, 4:3 frames that are largely empty with characters placed on the bottom or or on the edges of the frame, space and time manipulations, and a Greek like chorus.

“It's exactly like a greek tragedy”. The Greek chorus—Chorus Anya says “Restless” is like a Greek tragedy—is made up of several characters in the Buffy verse including Tara, the Cheese Man, Buffy, Giles, Olivia, Willow, Xander, and Anya, all of who function as oracle throughout the episode as they comment not only on the journeys of each of our Scoobies past and present, but in some cases, the future journeys of our Scoobies, and on what is going on narratively in “Restless” in our Scoobies dreams.

In her dream Willow worries that, despite how safe she feels with Tara in Tara’s room, where she writes the poetry of the Greek poetess Sappho on Tara’s nude back, and behind the vaginal curtains (this is what Whedon calls them in his commentary on “Restless”) before she enters her Sunnydale High School stage, both lesbian references, her journey may still take her back to the softer side of Sears loser that she and others thought she was in high school, a fear symbolised in the transformation of the Willow of season four into the Willow of season one and season two who stands in front of a Sunnydale High School class in one of her softer side of Sears dresses and with her long hair back reading her book report. There are other things that are haunting Willow in her dream as well. Just as Willow wasn’t sure why Oz chose her as his girlfriend, she is not sure of why Tara is with her, a fear symbolized by Tara and Oz flirting in the Sunnydale High class. Nor is Willow over her stage fright. Willow refers back, at one point, to the disastrous Madam Butterfly stage role she was forced to play in “Nightmares”. And just as Willow’s family and everyone she has met was in the audience in “Nightmares” they are in the audience in “Restless” waiting to see Willow star in “Death of a Salesman”, a, very different “Death of a Salesman” from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

In his dream Xander is worried that his journey will never take him out of the basement he is living in. Realising, thanks to Joyce, that instead of being a "conquistador" he is a "comfortador" Xander still worries that he is not fully a part of the Scoobies, a fear symbolised by Joyce telling the Xandman that the other Scoobies have left him behind at 1630 Revello and when he sees Spike apprenticing as a Watcher, Junior. Apparently Xander hopes or hoped he might be in line to become a Watcher thanks to his apprenticeship under the tutelage of Giles in season four. He continues to fear that he will end up as soldier guy in his own version of Apocalypse Now. In his version of the film he, playing the Martin Sheen role, is brought before Principal Snyder (a wonderful Armin Shimerman), playing the Marlon Brando role, who compares him to decomposed mulch. There is still a lot of the sex on Xander’s mind in his dream. Remember "Surprise"/"Innocence" (2:13 and 2:14) and "Earshot (3:18)? Xander has a thing for Joyce and is interested in the possibility of the little girl on girl and guy action Willow and Tara invite him to partake of at the back of his ice cream truck, a little girl on girl on guy action for which Xander leaves girlfriend Anya, an Anya Xander fears is failing as a human and is going to return to vengeance demoning—is Xander fearful that Anya will go all vengeancy on him? Xander ends up following Willow and Tara, who have disappeared, by crawling past sheep graffiti (shout out to Cordelia calling the Cordettes sheep in “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”, 2:16) only to end up back where he began and to which he keeps returning, his dark and dank basement.

In his dream Giles continues to worry about where his life is going after being fired as a Watcher. He may no longer be a Watcher in real life but, in his dreams, he brings his Slayer to a scary nightmare carnival in a graveyard to teach her how to kill vampires by throwing balls at the vampire dummy carnival game. Olivia, who is back at least in Giles dreams, tells him to take it easy on the Buffster after Giles tells her to hold her elbow in when throwing and telling Buffy that he doesn’t have any treats for her as a reward for killing a vampire. Giles seems to harbour little hope for him and Olivia as she breaks down crying after she is unable to fold up the baby carriage she has been pushing as Giles and her walk with Buffy through the nightmare carnival. Spike has a cameo in Giles’s dream just as he did in Xander’s. Giles sees Spike as carnival act in 1930s film black and white. Apparently he sees a Spike who has been to the vet as no longer a threat to him or the Scoobs. Anya also has a cameo in Giles’s dream just as she did in Xander's dream. In Giles’s dream Anya fails at being a stand up comedian. Is Giles afraid that failing at being human Anya will return to her vengeance demon days?

“Restless’s” dreamscapes are not purely surreal nor are they unreal. In “Nightmares” the dreams of the Scoobies burst forth into “reality”. In “Restless” the "reality" of what the Scoobies did in “The Yoko Factor” and “Primeval”, break into our Scoobies dreams bringing forth a somewhat different kind of primeval force. Throughout Willow’s, Xander’s, and Giles’s dreams we see fragmented images of the episode’s monster of the week, images that become more and more complete as our Scoobies continue to dream in succession. In Willow’s dream the kino eye reveals, as the script says, glimpses of a woman who is stalking Willow who appears to be wearing soiled rags, rags not unlike a mummy's, who has black hair in coarse dreads as a result of neglect, not for fashion reasons, a face painted in coloured clay and with long, almost clawlike nails. Willow’s dream ends as the Primitive” sucks Willow dry, a la “Inca Mummy Girl” (2:4). In Xander’s dream he hears someone, something, making scratches behind the upstairs door to his basement apartment, catches a glimpse of the Primitive waking on its knuckles just as a panther growls, and watches as his father comes down the stairs, complaining as he comes that Xander doesn’t spend time with him and his mother anymore and wonders whether he is ashamed of them, morph into the Primitive who kills him by pulling out his heart. In Giles’s dream we see the full silhouette of the Primitive as indoor lighting strikes behind her. Seeing her Giles says, “I know who you are. And I can defeat you. With my intellect”. Before Giles can kill the Primitive with his intellect, however, she slashes him across his forehead killing him first.

It is in Buffy’s dream that we finally learn who the monster of the week is. It is “the first, the first Slayer. Sineya (Sharon Ferguson). It is in Buffy’s dream that we see and hear the first Slayer for the first time. And it is in Buffy's dream that the monster of the week, the first Slayer, is named. Naming plays an important role in “Restless”. Tara and Willow try to come up with a name for their cat, “Miss Kitty”. You’d think, Tara says, that she would have told us her name by now. Tara tells Willow that she doesn’t know everything about her yet, and she doesn’t as we know from “The I in Team” and "Goodbye Iowa" where Tara intentionally botched a spell she and Willow were performing. Willow responds by asking Tara if she has told her her real name. Riley and Adam in human form are filing and giving things names in their World Domination headquarters. When Buffy asks Adam what his name was before he became Adam, he replies that not a man among us can remember. It is women who finally name the threat to the Scoobies in their dreams. First Tara, then Buffy, speak the name of the first Slayer, “the first”. With the name spoken the dream spell is broken and Buffy tells herself to wake up. This Sleeping Beauty needs no Prince Charming. As Buffy wakes so do the other Scoobies. This weeks threat over, at least for the moment.

“Restless” ends with the Scoobies sitting once again around Joyce’s and Buffy’s table telling Joyce about the battle with the first they just fought. The power of the first Slayer, they surmise, was affronted when they joined manus, Slayer power, with Willow’s spiritus, spirit, Xander’s animus, heart, and Giles’s sophus, mind, to create Combo super Buffy. The first Slayer, by the way, makes the punishment of each Scooby fit the crime. She sucks the spirit out of Willow, pulls the heart from Xander, slashes Giles’s forehead, and tries to kill Buffy in ancient Slayer fashion.

Beyond the fears of our Scoobies and the attack by the first on our Scoobies, both in their dreams, both of which are at the narrative heart of "Restless", a number of other themes weave their way through the episode. There is the reference to 730 again, a reference that once again raises the question of what exactly 730 is. There is the theme of friendship, a theme that has been at the heart of Buffy since it began, a theme interwoven with the tradition that the Slayer fights alone. There is the theme, the new blood I mentioned earlier in this blog, of what a Slayer is. There is the theme of growing up. And then there is the Cheese Man.

The Cheese Man Cometh. Though Whedon said in his commentary on “Restless” that the Cheese Man and his statements and movements—“I”ve made a little space for the cheese slices”, “These will not protect you”, “I wear the cheese. It does not wear me”, “the Cheese Man leans into frame, dangling a couple of slices invitingly"—are meaningless and just one of those weird things that happen in dreams this hasn’t stopped scholar fans and fan scholars from writing about the meaning or meanings of the cheeseman and cheese in the Buffyverse (see the articles by Fionnagh and Melanie Wilson below). And let’s not forget that Buffy, thanks to being turned into a rat in “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” has, as Willow tells Riley and us viewers in “Doomed”, a thing for cheese.

“THE CLOCK reads 7:30”. When talking to Chorus Tara in her bedroom in her dream Buffy says that she and Faith just made her bed, a reference, of course, to the Faith and Buffy collective dream in “Who are You” and “This Year’s Girl” earlier this season. Buffy also notices that the digital clock in her room says 7:30, a reference to what Faith says in another Buffy and Faith collective dream, this one in “Graduation Day”. Chorus Tara responds by telling Buffy that, “Oh, that clocks completely wrong”. So 730 is still to come? As Buffy leaves to find the other Scoobs Tara reminds her to “Be back before dawn”…Be back before dawn? At the end of the episode Buffy goes upstairs to take a shower, stops and looks into her bedroom, sees that the bed is made and hears Chorus Tara’s voice in voice over saying “You think you know. What's to come, what you are… You haven't even begun.” Are we going to learn something new about Slayerness in season five and beyond?

“Have you seen my friends anywhere?” As Buffy wonders through the dreamscape of her bedroom, of a UC, Sunnydale where she finds Joyce in a closet, and the offices of world domination guys, she searches for her friends asking where they are. Is Buffy naming her friends? When she and the first finally confront each other in the desert Buffy asks the first where her friends are. The first, through her oracle of Tara, tells Buffy that a Slayer lives in the action of death, in the blood-cry, the penetrating wound. The Slayer, she says, is absolute destruction and is absolutely alone in a world she doesn’t walk in. Buffy responds by telling the first, “Im not alone”. “I walk. I talk. I shop, I sneeze, I'm gonna be a fireman when the floods roll back. There's trees in the desert since you moved out, and I don't sleep on a bed of bones. Now give me back my friends.” The first refuses speaking for herself for the first time, “No… friends… just the kill… we are… alone”. Buffy rejects this ancient tradition of a Slayer alone for a new tradition of a Slayer with friends and family once again and says to the first that you are not the source of me. So will we learn about more Slayer mythology in season five and beyond?

"Is that a fact?". Buffy tells Adam that she is not a demon when Adam tells her that she and he come by aggression differently than humans. In “The Yoko Factor” and “Primeval” Buffy told Forrest that she was not a killer. Isn't the first a killer and doesn't Buffy, by putting coloured clay on herself in her dream, connect herself to the first? Is the first a demon?

“Also in terms of hair care…Not big with the socialization…or the floss…”. Buffy criticizes the first’s hair care, Xander her lack of socialization skills, and Willow her lack of flossing skills. Some academics have seen this as evidence of Whedon and Company’s Western ethnocentrism. I have to admit that occasionally these references to the first’s lack of hygiene (there are so many references to hygiene in Buffy that one might wonder if it was a theme to the show if it wasn’t clear that it was a parody and satire of teenager and adult obsessions with how one looks) skills and lack of socialization skills make me uncomfortable. Perhaps these remarks, however, are supposed to make viewers uncomfortable since they may reflect one theme of the show, Buffy’s, Xander’s, and Willow’s continuing struggle to grow up and move beyond the cultural blinders of late twentieth century middle class American ideologies of hygiene, beauty, and socialisation. On the other hand these remarks may be meant to be humourous. Or perhaps they function to return the Scoobies to from their surreal Wizard of Oz dreamscapes back to their mundane “normal” Buffy world. Joss Whedon, in his commentary to "Restless", says that Buffy’s mundane comments to the first function as a means to bring the dreamscape in which the Primitive threatens her and her friends to an end and hence reflects her return to her mundane mental world of old.

So we’re finally off to season five. At this point Willow, Xander, and Giles appear to be on journeys they would rather not be taking. Willow fears journeying beyond her vaginal curtain world with Tara scared that she will once again see the softer side of Sears. Xander would like to journey beyond his dark and dank basement but at this point he can’t seem to get out of the underground lair he keeps returning to again and again. Giles would like to journey back to his days as a Watcher but is not sure he can. And Buffy seems to have embarked on a journey that I am not sure she wants to be on either, the journey to find out who the Slayer within her is. After all Buffy told the first very pointedly that she was different from her. She, she told her, is a Slayer with friends and family.

The Chorus. Fascinating and important symbolically dense episode with tonnes/tons of character developments. Yet another Joss Whedon penned and directed episode that pushes at the boundaries of conventional American television while still keeping the episode fully within the narrative structure and thematic concerns of the series as a whole.

Awesome. Anthony Stewart Head singing “The Exposition Song”, written by Whedon and arranged by Buffy composer Christophe Beck. The band performing the song is Four Star Mary, the band who were the real musicians behind Oz’s band Dingoes Ate My Baby in seasons two through four. “The Exposition Song” sums up what Giles has concluded about the monster stalking them in their dreams. It is, he sings, some primal evil released by the spell they cast in “The Yoko Factor” and “Primeval”.

Transcript of Joss Whedon’s Commentary on “Restless”,
Transcript of Joss Whedon’s Commentary on “Innocence”,
Joss Whedon, Commentary: “Restless”, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fourth season on DVD)
Fionnagh, “An Analysis of Cheese as a Metaphor in Buffy the Vampire Slayer”,
http://www.whedon.info/article.php3?id_article=5318 http://www.stonesoup.co.nz/ecoqueer/archives/003318.html
Melanie Wilson; “Why the Cheese Man Is an Integral Part of Restless” in Kevin Durand (ed.); Buffy Meets the Academy: Essays on the Episodes and Scripts as Texts (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009), pp. 161-168

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"It's All About the Money, Money, Money": Musings on the NCAA and Penn State

I listened to The Nation sports columnist Dave Zirin talking about the NCAA penalties imposed on Penn State University on Democracy Now this morning. Zirin argued that there are several problems with what the NCAA did including that the private NCAA was imposing a $60 million dollar penalty on a public university, that that monetary penalty would impact other sports at Penn State that had no involvement in the scandal since revenue generating football at American colleges subsidises other sports on campus, that the NCAA relied on the Freeh report for its justification for imposing penalties football programme at Penn State, that the Freeh report did not investigate the role of the Board of Trustees in the scandal including the current governor of Pennsylvania who was attorney general at the time, that the NCAA was imposing penalties on a school that committed criminal acts, criminal acts that are being pursued through the criminal courts, criminal acts that are not violations of NCAA rules, and the fact that penalties were, in part, imposed on student-athletes, if I can use that rather oxymoronic term, who, presumably, had nothing to do with what Jerry Sandusky did on the Penn State University campus.

I agree with a lot of what Zirin said. I find it interesting that many of the penalties the NCAA are imposing on Penn State will be carried on the back of former student athletes and current and future student-athletes. This, of course, is how the NCAA generally operates. I am an Indiana alum and I still recall how Indiana student-athletes were punished for the sins of one Kelvin Sampson who simply moved on to another job, he is now an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets, with only his reputation sullied. It has taken four years for Indiana to get out of the hole that Sampson not Indiana student-athletes or students dug.

In many ways it seems like the NCAA operates as kind of an Tanakh or Old Testament god which issues injunctions from on high which punish previous and future generations of student-athletes for the sins of the coaches and the administration. Don't get me wrong. I am not always opposed to Tanakh justice. I am all for the death penalty at least in one instance. I think it should imposed on the NCAA. We certainly don't need an organisation, that imposes penalties on those who had nothing to do with a crime, the NCAA version of collateral damage, I guess, that pays themselves millions of dollars in salaries, that exploits the images of student athletes without pay for NCAA "profit", that exploits students by allowing colleges to avoid paying those who play football or basketball at NCAA schools while negotiating multimillion dollar media deals which enriches their organisation and themselves, that has some truly looney rules and regulations, which probably violates anti-monopoly laws, and which plays an important role in undermining the real mission of colleges and universities, a liberal arts education. A pox on their house.

Dave Zirin, The NCAA is Seeking Brand Rehabilitation Not Justice in the Penn State Scandal, http://www.thenation.com/blog/169032/dave-zirin-ncaa-seeking-brand-rehabilitation-not-justice-penn-state-scandal

Suggested Readings
Taylor Branch, "The Shame of College Sports", the Atlantic, October 2011, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/10/the-shame-of-college-sports/8643/

Monday, July 23, 2012

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

The quote of the day comes from Joe Starnes, Democrat, Dixiecrat, US Representative from Alabama from 1933-1939, who served on the Dies Committee (1938-1955). The Dies Committee was a precursor of HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee, which investigated the supposed Communist infiltration of the New Deal Works Progress Administration (WPA), Federal Writers Project, and Federal Theater Project. It was named after its Dixiecrat chair Martin Dies of Texas.

When Hallie Flanagan, the head of the Federal Theater Project (FTP) appeared before the Dies Committee Starnes questioned her about a Mr. Euripides, who Starnes accused of preaching class warfare (ah the old anyone who talks about class in America must be a red demagogic strategy), and about a "Marlowe...so we can get the proper reference". Flanagan replied that Marlowe, as in Christopher Marlowe, was a great dramatist from the age of Shakespeare.

I am not describing a Monty Python sketch here. Starnes really asked Flanagan about Mr. Euripides and Mr. Marlowe in real life. Apparently Starnes was concerned about the "communist sympathies" of the of FTP staged The Trojan Incident based on Homer and the great Greek tragedian Euripides at the St. James Theatre in New York in 1938 and FTPer's Orson Welles and John Houseman adaptation of the great Elizabethan dramatist Christopher Marlowe's Tragical History of Dr. Faustus in New York (1937), Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, New Orleans, Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle. Starnes apparently didn't realise that Euripides and Marlowe were figures from a theatrical past and that they had long since died and so couldn't be called to testify before the inquisitorial Dies Committee. Congress, by the way, put an end to the Federal Theater Project in 1939 after 4 years of operation.

If this ignorant lunacy sounds familiar it should. I never imagined that I would be living through yet another age of ignorant McCarthyism in the United States but thanks to people like Michele Bachmann, Alan West and others I am. By the way, if the current crop of Republicans sounds a lot like the Dixiecrats of yore that too is not surprising. The Republicans have, by and large, essentially become the Dixiecrats of old with their states rights ideologies, don't tread on my freedom mantras, and paranoiac delusions of reds, socialist nazis, and now, in addition, Muslims under the bed.

Before you accuse Flanagan of being a flaming red--yes she was influenced by the experimental Soviet theatre of the 1920s before it was decimated by official Socialist realism but then the Soviet theatre was one of, if not the, great innovative theatrical dynamos at the time in the US and in Europe--let me remind you that theatre director and filmmaker Joseph Losey, who fled the US for the UK in as a result of the HUAC inquisition in the early 1950s, never forgave Flanagan for asking him to temper the supposed "leftist bias" of his The Living Newspaper, which presented topical news from 1936 in theatrical form and was staged at the Biltmore Theatre in New York in that year. The living newspaper genre of theatre, by the way, originated in Russia spread to Germany through playwright Bertolt Brecht and theatre director and producer Erwin Priscator and migrated to the US thanks to dramatist Elmer Rice and Hallie Flanagan.

This inquisition against the Federal Theater Project and Mr. Euripides and Marlowe raises a number of intellectual questions including why it is that any empirically accurate portrayal of the news, particularly when it uncovers the less than angelic side of American capital and American foreign policy, is always accused of "letist bias" while if it is pro-capital and portrays American foreign policy as the work of the angels it is rarely ever questioned and is regarded by most Americans as fair, balanced, and objective? What does it tell us about nationalistic theologies of good and theodicies of evil and binary ideologies in humankind? And what does it tell us about the power of mass ideological propaganda and its polemical and apologetic demagogues?

Benedict Nightinglae, "Mr. Euripides Goes to Washington", 18 September 1988, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/1988/09/18/books/mr-euripides-goes-to-washington.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
Anthony Badger, The New Deal: The Depression Years, 1933-1940, Hill and Wang, 1989
Losey on Losey, edited by Tom Milne, Doubleday, 1968
Library of Congress, The New Deal Stage: Selections from the Federal Theater Project, 1935-1939, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fedtp/fthome.html

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Buffy Blog: "The Yoko Factor" and "Primeval"

Last week in “New Moon Rising” we were given hints as to what Adam’s master plan might be—to provoke a demon versus human war that would leave both sides depleted and Adam, presumably, in charge. Last week Adam enticed Spike to aid him in his plan by promising to remove that pesky chip from our caged wild at heart animal’s head. Spike’s role in Adam’s chess game was to manipulate the Scoobies and the Slayer in to playing their role as pawns in the demon/human war on Adam’s chessboard. In “The Yoko Factor”, written by Doug Petrie and directed by David Grossman, and “Primeval”, written by David Fury and directed by James Contner, Adams’ plan comes to fruition but doesn’t quite end, as we will see, in the way he quite intended.

There are, as is always the case in Buffy, several things going on in “The Yoko Factor” and Primeval” at once. In the teaser of the episode Buffy has just gotten back from LA where she and Angel have gotten into a fight over Faith. Faith, as I mentioned in the blog to “Who Are You” went to LALALand to get her revenge on a Wesley who turned her over to the Watcher’s Council in “Consequences” (3:15) and an Angel who spurned her for Buffy in “Enemies” (3:17). In the two-part episode “Five by Five” and “Sanctuary” (1:18 and 1:19, 25 April 2000 and 2 May 2000) Faith, after terrorizing Angel and torturing Wes, thanks to Angel, sees the error of her ways and, like Angel, begins the difficult path toward redemption.

Buffy is hardly in a forgiving mood when she arrives at Angel’s LA apartment in search of Faith and finds the two hugging. Shades of “Enemies”. Buffy wants to turn Faith over to the police but Angel wants to give Faith the opportunity to turn herself in and take her first baby steps toward redemption. At the police station where an arrested Angel has been taken for harbouring fugitive Faith, he and Buffy have an intense verbal fight that ends with Buffy telling Angel that she has a new life and a new boyfriend and Angel telling Buffy that his loyalty to Faith has nothing to do with her and that LA is his town and that she should go back to Sunnydale. She does.

As Buffy returns from LA Xander brings Riley, who is still hiding from the Initiative at the old Sunnydale High School, some clean clothes and take his dirty ones to launder. Thanks to Buffy heading to LA Angel is on Riley’s mind and he asks Xander about Angel. Riley fills in the blanks as to what Buffy told him about Angel between “New Moon Rising” and “The Yoko Factor”/“Primeval” but, as Riley learns, while talking to Xander about Angel, the Xander who still hates Angel’s guts, Buffy left out one important point in their conversation, that it was Buffy and Angel sex that turned Angel into Angelus (season two). As a result Riley goes into jealous boyfriend mode.

The Buffy-Angel-Riley triangle reaches a crescendo when Riley, who has patched into the secret Initiative radio frequency, hears a report that an Initiative team is being torn apart by something and goes to help. That something, as Riley soon finds out, is Angel. Since jealous testosteroned poisoned boys will be boys the two fight--Angel is the stronger--until an Initiative patrol shows up sending both fleeing furtively to Buffy’s dorm room. In her dorm room Buffy forcibly calms them both down and then talks to each of them separately. Angel apologises to Buffy and Buffy apologises to Angel telling him that he was right, they now live in separate worlds and that she has no right to come into his world and make judgements about his decisions. Heading back to LA Angel tells her that in the future he’ll apologise, if necessary, by phone. Buffy then talks to Riley who jealously wonders aloud whether the Buffster has had sex with Angel turning him evil once again. Riley is surprised to learn that the Angel, the Mr. Billow Coat King of Pain guy the girls really go for, the Angel he has just had a run in with, is experiencing one of his “good” days. Buffy asks Riley how he could even think such a think and asks him if she has ever given him cause to be jealous. Realising that he has gone “nuts” because of his jealously Riley says no she hasn’t. Buffy and Riley crisis over for the moment. Question marks still remain, however. Where is the Buffy and Riley relationship going? How does Angel fit into it? Hopefully season five will tell.

While the Buffy-Angel-Riley arc is an important thread running through “The Yoko Factor” and “Primeval” it is not at the centre of the episode. That place is reserved for several arcs and the interrelationship between them, several arcs that have wound their way throughout season four and which now come to a kind of conclusion, the Scoobies disassemble arc, an arc grounded in the Scoobs leaving high school, the Scoobies versus the Initiative arc, an arc grounded in the different knowledges about and different ways of dealing with the demon world the Scoobies and the Initiative have and act upon, and the Adam arc, an arc intimately related to and tied to the Initiative arc and grounded in the Initiative’s attempt at, as we will see, world domination.

As “The Yoko Factor” and “Primeval” begins Adam is still moving his pieces around his chessboard and Spike is continues to help him. Adam is still counting on the Slayer being in the think of his demons and humans war but, at Spike’s suggestion, he decides to have Spike break up the Slayettes so they can’t come after Adam and muck up his plan before the great demon and human war.

Spike uses his old tricks to break up the Scoobies. He plays on Giles’s fear that we have seen throughout season four (and even before) that he is no longer really a central part of Buffy’s life. He plays on Xander’s fear that that he is useless and really doesn’t play a role whatsoever in the Scooby battles against evil. Remember “The Zeppo”!. He plays on Willow’s fear that she is Buffy’s sidekick and that Buffy, Xander, and Giles think that Willow’s Wicca thing with Tara is nothing more than a college phase she is going through. He plays on Willow’s and Xander’s fears that Buffy, with her sense of superiority, looks down on them even though she is, as Xander says, superior. By the end of the first part of the episode, “The Yoko Factor” the question marks Spike puts into the minds of each of the Scoobies about each other does its intended work and after an intense shout and blame match the Scoobies go their own ways not because, as Spike tells Adam, he broke them up any more than Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles, but because, just like the Beatles, the Scoobies were already spitting apart on their own. And he’s right. As Willow says, it is hard to keep the old high school gang together after high school.

The Scoobies are not the only ones who are being torn apart. While Buffy is out hunting Adam she runs into Forrest who tells her that his family is being torn apart, the Corleone Family (reference to Mario Puzo’s 1969 book The Godfather and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 film adaptation of the book) Buffy sarcastically replies. Though Buffy and Forrest say they are going their own ways they go their own ways into a cave in front of them looking for Adam. And Adam they find. After a fight in which Buffy tries to save Forrest by pushing him out of the way and in which Adam once again tosses around Buffy like a plastic toy, Adam kills Forrest.

Now Buffy has to tell Riley the bad news. After the big Riley versus Angel testosterone match in her dorm room Buffy tells Riley that Forrest is dead, killed by Adam. Riley in blank stare mode tells the Buffster he has to leave. I initially thought that Riley wanted to be alone it with the pain of the death of someone he was very close to or perhaps that he was going to pull a Giles (“Passion”, 2:17) and hunt down and try to kill the hybrid beast who killed his best friend. In the final scene of “The Yoko Factor” we see Riley walk into Adam’s lair. Adam says, “I have been waiting for you”. Riley responds “And now I’m here”.

The second part of the episode, “Primeval”, begins where “The Yoko Factor” left off. Buffy and the Scoobies have been split apart and Buffy is no longer wondering why there isn’t a prophecy about the Chosen One and her Friends. A Slayer with friends or without, of course, has been a major theme in Buffy the Vampire Slayer up to this point. Buffy goes in search of the one person who she is sure she can trust, Riley, but Riley has deserted and is missing in action from Buffy’s point of view, anyway. We viewers, however, know where Riley is. Riley is, for some reason, in Adam’s lair.

Now we viewers learn why Riley is with Adam. Adam tells “brother” Riley the real nature of Mother’s, of Maggie Walsh’s, plan for them both. They are part of an experiment that will provide the US government and its military the opportunity for world domination. Riley, like Adam, has been modified by Mother thanks to a behaviour modification chip in his chest and is forced against his will to obey every command Adam utters, though his will fights against Adam’s control over him. Riley struggles, in other words, against his Initiative conditioning. The betwixt and between Riley, the Riley betwixt and between the Initiative and the Scoobies and not quite a part of either, it turns out, thinks too much as Colonel McNamara tells the government agency types in suits at the beginning of the episode.

Though it appears that every chess piece is in its correct place on Adam’s chessboard there is a flaw in Adam’s plan as Adam and Spike soon realise. Adam has filled the Initiative’s holding cells with demons convinced by his demagogic rhetoric that he is on their side and that he is going to set them loose on their Initiative enemy, his version, as Xander says, of the Trojan Horse. If the Slayer presence in the Initiative is essential if the kill ratio of demons and humans is to be evened out after he releases these demons into the Initiative so that he can build an army of hybrid demon/human/technological beings like himself, how is she going to be enticed into the underground Initiative lair when the Scoobies have broken up and Buffy needs Willow’s help to decrypt the computer discs Adam has had Spike give Giles in order to entice Buffy into the Initiative’s lair?

Spike, with the promise of a “chipperectomy” is off to rectify the damage he has done. Buffy, checking out the cave she earlier found Adam in, runs into Spike near Adam’s now deserted lair. She tells Spike of the Adam danger. When Spike mentions to her that she should get on the computer discs he has given Giles and Willow, Spike goes on to make one of those proverbial slips of the tongue when he tells Buffy that her falling out with Willow can’t get in the way of finding out about the valuable information on those discs. How did Spike, Buffy wonders suspiciously, know that she and Willow, the two birds, have had a falling out?

Buffy reunites the Scoobies sans Anya and Tara on the UC, Sunnydale campus and tells the Scoobs that it was once again Spike who set them up and knocked them down. The Scoobies reunited head off to Giles’s place to do some research in order to figure out how they can fight an Adam who, they learn, thanks to the automatic decryption of the computer discs in Willow’s possession, wants the Slayer in the Initiative but is not really worried whatsoever that the Slayer might kill him.

Meanwhile Adam has his gang together again as well in a secret lab behind room 314 in the Initiative. Walsh and Angleman, artificially reanimated and now walking corpses, are there to help him with the medical procedures necessary to turn war dead into hybrid army. Adam has already turned Forrest into something nearly as “bad” as he is, a preview of Adam’s coming attractions, and as Riley is to become.

Things are looking dire for our Slayer. Just when all seems lost it is Xander once again to the rescue. “All we need”, he says, “is a combo Buffy with slayer strength, Giles' multi-lingual know-how and Willow's witchy power”. And that is what they get. Making their way into the Initiative by repeling down the lift/elevator shaft the Scoobies escape the Initiative, an Initiative that is clueless as to what is about to happen, who have captured them, after Adam unleashes the demons in his Trojan Horse on the Initiative, and head to the room near Adam’s secret lab. There Willow, Xander, and Giles do a spell—so that is what the magic gourd was for—while Buffy heads off into the secret lab to find and fight Adam.

Buffy finds Adam and Walsh and Angleman and Riley in Adam’s secret lab. Riley? Adam leaves for his command headquarters to continue to push the buttons on his chessboard and leaves Buffy to a now superstrong Forrest who has been yearning to take on the Slayer and kill her for some time. Buffy, with Riley’s help, a Riley who through force of will manages to cut into his chest with the glass from a beaker that has been broken while Buffy and hybrid Forrest fight, manages to remove the chip in his chest and escape the experimental ties that bind. Riley thinks too much. He takes Buffy’s place in what has become their tag team match against Forrest. Buffy is now free to follow Adam into his surveillance centre where the experiment has gone to watch the battle taking place in the Initiative.

Meanwhile Willow, Xander, and Giles put Willow’s spiritus, spirit, Xander’s animus, heart, Giles’s sophus, mind, and the power of the Slayer, the first Slayer, the first of the one’s, manus, hand, into the daughter of Sineya, Buffy. In a remarkable scene, the camera, as the Scoobies perform the spell, begins to circle around the Scoobs. As the spell proceeds and begins to work the camera, circling the Scoobies faster and faster, travels, once the spell has kicked in, from the Scoobies to Buffy in a spectacular piece of montage, transforming the Buffster into super combo Slayer in the middle of her fight with Adam. It is this Slayer of the spell, this combo Slayer, the Slayer who combines aspects of Buffy, the Slayer, Willow, Xander, and Giles, who defeats Adam by pulling the power core out of his body. Thank you Jonathan. Too bad Buffy doesn’t know it was you who gave this information to Riley.

Cavities Defeat Science. One of the narrative themes of season four has been the stark contrast between the military follow the orders of the leaders Initiative and the ever questioning primeval Scoobies. It is the “she’s just a girl” Buffy and her band of freaks with their “backward”, actually primeval, knowledges, who win the day putting an end, if for the moment, to an American governmental and military attempt to harness demons in hybrid form for use for the use of the American military in, presumably, service to American imperialism.

With the Scoobies victorious the American government decides to shut the Initiative down, to fill it in with concrete, to burn it down and salt the earth, a la what ancient Rome did to ancient Carthage, as one governmental official says. And, this being a government with a security state mentality, it decides to monitor the civilians, the Scoobies, the “civilian insurrectionists” who saved the Initiative from casualties greater than the forty percent they suffered. Should the Scoobies decide to go public with what they know the US government has prepared the usual measures to counter such "fabrications". So is the real big bad of season four the governmental-military-industrial complex the Initiative represents?

“Opted Not to Join Us Despite the Fun We Had at Our Last Meeting”. While Buffy, Xander, Willow, and a drunken Giles the semi-Scoobies Anya and Tara head to Giles’s bathroom to wait while the storm blows over. Nor do Anya and Tara come to the Scooby meeting Buffy has called at UC, Sunnydale after the big blowup the day before. Anya and Tara still aren’t full-fledged members of the Scooby Gang.

The Continuing Saga of Giles’s Front Door. It is Spike once again who comes unnoticed into Giles’s apartment while the Watcher is performing—in preparation for a return concert at the Espresso Pump?—a spectacular version of the Lynyrd Skynyrd tune “Free Bird”. Spike snarkilly says something to Giles that probably some of us in the viewing audience have wanted to say to him for awhile, “You know, for someone who's got "Watcher" on his resume, you might want to cast an eye to the front door every now and again”. Perhaps Giles’s seemingly ever open door to anyone who wished to walk in is a metaphor for the Watchers very un-Watcher-like behaviour in season four and his sense of not knowing exactly what to do with his season four life.

A Little Guy on Guy Action? I suppose some academics would see homoeroticism in Riley’s and Forrest’s relationship, but is there, really? Or, if we viewed academic analyis as simply a form of reading just like any other reading, would we have to ask why academics see homoeroticism in so many books, films, and television shows these days? Does this reading say something about the social and cultural contexts of contemporary Western academia?

Next Season on Buffy. So the Initiative is defeated and it’s on to season five. But hey aren’t I jumping the gun? Isn’t there still one more episode yet to come in season four?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Consumer's Guide to Indoor HDTV Television Antennas

I have, since the United States made its transition from analog to digital television in 2009, had the unfortunate experience of trying out various HDTV indoor antennas in search of the rarest of rare species, a digital television antenna that works and works well.

I made my own transition to digital television a year before the federally mandated date for the transition to take place. I lived then as I live now in Albany, New York, Albany is a market served locally by several television channels most of them with broadcast antennas in the Helderberg's 15 miles south, southwest, of Albany including Channel 6, CBS, Channel 10 and Channel 19, ABC, Channel 13, NBC, Channel 17, PBS, Channel 23 Fox, Channel 45, the CW, Channel 51, MyTV, Channel 54, a Christian channel, and Channel 55, Pax. Before the transition to digital I could pick up 6, 10, 13, 17, 23, and 45 and, rarely, 51 and 55 on my analog TV with the help of an added VHF and UHF antenna. When I switched to digital TV, and I did this before the federally mandated transition date, I was able to regularly pick up 6, 10, 17, and 19. After the transition I lost 6 but gained 45 and eventually, with antenna switches, 13 and 23. Eventually I was able to get 6.1 at 45.3, 45 is the CW affiliate in the Capital District and which is partly owned by CBS. It took the braniacs at Channel 6 several months to realise that many in Albany could no longer pick up the channel since they switched the channel they transmitted on but that they could use one of their 45's, 45.3, to broadcast 6.1 on and reach, as a result, some of the houses in the Albany area which could no longer get 6. Unfortunately, the idiots at local CBS did not use one of the 45's to broadcast this TV, the MGM movie channel, the only 6, 6.2, I am at all interested in watching. After another antenna switch I was able to get the 51's including the wonderful Antenna TV.

What follows are is my rating guide for the digital television antennas I have used over the last several years. My ratings for each antenna are based on putting the antenna in exactly the same spots and taking them for a test run over a period of several months.

Initially I exclusively used Philips antennas to pick up digital TV signals. I felt a certain loyalty to Philips because that is where my father worked in the 1960s and 1970s. I know, I am an idiot. I shouldn't let my heart govern my head. The first antenna I tried was the Philips High Performance Amplified Indoor UHF/VHF/FM/HDTV antenna, the one with LED signal level monitor and two poles. Rating: good. I couldn't get 6, 23, 45, or any of the 50s on it. Next I tried the Philips SDV 2740/27. Rating: good but not really any better than the High Performance antenna. I next decided to switch to an RCA ANT1450 BR flat antenna. Rating: good, but really not any better than the two Philips's I used previously. I then switched to the Philips SDV 313227. This swivel top antenna wins the award for the best antenna I have used so far. I could, by moving the circular swivel clockwise and counterclockwise pick up 19 channels regularly and 24 on rare occasions. The major downside of this antenna, as it was for every one I tried before it, was picture stability. Any time a car or truck went by on the fairly heavily travelled road in front of the apartment I lived in, the picture faded out. Rating: Very Good. I next decided to give the Philips SDV 15122/27 a try. This antenna is hands down the worst I have ever used. I could only pick up 10 TV channels with it. On the plus side, the stability of the picture was the best of any antenna I used. Rating: Poor. The next digital antenna tested is the Mohu Paper Thin Leaf Indoor HDTV antenna, and it is paper thin. It has some of the highest ratings of any indoor HDTV antenna on the Amazon website. Rating: Excellent. I can pick up everything I picked up with the Philips SDV 313227 except the 54's, which I only picked up briefly with it, and, in addition,I can pick up, if limitedly, the 55's. And I don't even have to fiddle around with it. Picture stability is fair. When a car or a truck goes by or a helicopter flies over the signal weakens. I guess this is the nature of the digital TV beast.

I want to close by saying that in my experience digital TV may produce a superior quality video and audio but the signals themselves are highly variable in terms of how strongly the come in and in terms of their stability. If cars, trucks, helicopters can take my signal out what does that say about ideologies of progress? We definitely do not live in the best of all possible TV signal worlds. Call me annoyed, frustrated, and sometimes angry.

Buffy Blog: "New Moon Rising"

“New Moon Rising”, written by Marti Noxon and directed by James Contner, though it moves the Adam arc, the Initiative arc, the Initiative and Riley arc, the Buffy and Riley arc, the Spike arc, and the season four arc forward, is primarily focused on the Oz, Willow, and Tara arcs.

Adam comes to Spike’s crypt and makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Help him, Adam, with world domination by setting the demons against the humans with the Scoobies on the human side to even up the odds, and I, Adam, will take that pesky chip out of your head. Adam’s plan is not to have either side win the war between the demons and the humans, but to have the war decimate each side so that he can then step in and take over the chessboard for himself. Spike is to be on the Slayers side to insure that Buffy and the Scoobies don’t, as is their tendency, as Spike tells it, to win. On to the final act of season four?

Riley, despite what happened in “The I in Team” and “Goodbye Iowa”, is kind of back to being routine and unspontaneous soldier guy getting up in the morning when the alarm goes off, doing his pushups to stay strong, and still believing in the theorem that demons are bad and humans are good despite Buffy’s observation that it’s more complicated than that and that there are some creatures, like vampires, like Angel, of course, who aren’t evil at all.

When Riley learns that Willow has dated a werewolf—he wasn’t aware that she was the type of girl who would be into dangerous guys—Riley goes all manichean again. When he learns that what appears to be a werewolf has killed one of his Initiative men (it isn't, by the way, Oz) he really goes manichean, Buffy calls it bigoted, threatening a werewolf the Initiative has just caught and suspects of killing Willis, with death. He points his pistol at the werewolf threatening to kill it but just as he appears about to pull the trigger the werewolf morphs into Oz.

Riley begins to once again have second thoughts about his humans good, demons bad mantra. When Initiative scientists begin their experiments on Oz shocking him and turning him from human to wolf leaving the marks of their experimental torture on his body, a medical torture regime that must remind some of the experiments the Nazis did on their other “non-humans during World War II (Xander's fear bringing nazi's made flesh?), Riley urges them to stop. “I know him”, he says.

The personal connection between Riley the teaching assistant and Oz the student seems to make Riley rethink his humans good, demons evil catechism while the negative stimulation the Initiative is giving Oz perhaps makes him rethink his take on the Initiative particularly since Oz is no longer, as he says, a threat, a very Scooby way of seeing things. Riley tries to stop the torture of Oz but he can’t since the only person who can issue a cease order is, as the Initiative researcher tells Riley, the new Initiative commander Colonel McNamara, a man who is clearly the very epitome of the Initiative militaristic spit and polish, follow the leaders, and demons evil mentality.

After the torture stops and Oz is placed naked in one of the Initiative’s cells (an Oz for the female gaze?). Riley helps Oz escape from his cell. Before they can escape from the Initiative’s underground lair, however, Riley and Oz are captured. Oz is returned to his cell while Riley is put in the brig to await trial for treason, for working with, as Colonel McNamara puts it in typically Initiative manichean fashion, the Slayer and her band of anarchist freaks who are too backward for the real world. For McNamara, apparently, the Scoobies are only a little better than demons.

Learning from Tara, who Oz in werewolf form tried to attack, more about this later, the too backward for the real world Scoobies once again swing into action and once again Buffy and Xander, this time accompanied by Willow and this time with the help of Spike--it is Adam who is really the “person” behind the scenes pulling the strings--invade the Initiative layer. They capture McNamara. They force him to take them to Riley so they can free him once they learn his is in the brig awaiting trial for treason, and, though surrounded by Initiative soldier boys, manage to free Oz after Buffy threatens McNamara with a William Burroughs if he doesn’t lead them to Oz. No, not death by free prose boredom as Xander wittily and humourously asks, but death by shooting. Burroughs’s, as Buffy learned in English class though her Initiative classmates don’t seem to have been listening that day in class, killed his common law wife Joan Vollmer “accidentally” while drunk during a bar game of William Tell in Mexico City in 1951. What is it with the William Tell references this season? Didn’t we just have another in “Superstar”?

With Oz freed and the Scoobies on the elevator out of the Initiative McNamara still in tow as hostage, tells Riley that he is a dead man. “No sir”, Riley responds, “- I'm an anarchist”.

If we viewers needed a clearer picture of what the Initiative is up to, a question that has been on Scooby minds since they discovered who the Initiative was earlier in season four, or that humans are not always, as in Riley’s binary theorem, good, then the Initiative’s brutal and dispassionate all demons are evil clinical torture of Oz in “New Moon Rising” and their attitudes toward our Scoobies, provides us with a picture that is finally crystal clear. It is obvious now that the Initiative is very different from our Scoobies and that even the ends of the Initiative and the Scoobies are very different. The Initiative wants to either kill or modify demons undermining the balance between the worlds, while the Scoobies with their reactive strategies, may kill dangerous and threatening demons but not enough to undermine that balance. Adam, in a variation on the Initiative mentality, wants to cull enough demons and humans, so he can make himself the dictator of the known universe. With Adam moving his chess pieces around the board in preparation for battle we viewers are left to wonder what whether the tensions between the Scoobies and the Initiative complicate the battle between demons and humans.

Though the Adam, Initiative, Riley, Buffy, Willow, Tara and season four arcs and the intersections between them are important in “New Moon Rising”, it is two ghosts from Buffy past, Oz and Angel, which are at the heart of the episode.

Oz returns out of Willow’s past. He has spent the last several months travelling across Europe and finally to Tibet—did you notice his Buddhist prayer beads?—to study meditation techniques, meditation techniques, as he tells Willow in her dorm room, that, as Willow learns when Oz takes her outside for a look at the full moon in the sky, he is using to control the wolf, the anger, within.

Oz’s new found wolf control and his relationship with Willow, however, is, as Willow tells Buffy, “complicated”. Since “Hush” Willow has grown closer to Tara and has, as we have seen on several occasions, begun a relationship with Tara, a relationship expressed through glances, touching, and the sexual metaphor of magicks. These complications come to a boil when Oz thinks he smells Willow in the halls of one of the UC, Sunnydale campus buildings, but, when he turns in the direction of the odour it turns out to be Tara, a Tara, who he says, has Willow all over her. Eventually it dawns on Oz that despite what Xander said about Willow not having another boyfriend, that Willow does have someone in her life, Tara. Jealous with rage Oz transforms into the wolf in the middle of the day, chases Tara into a lecture hall, and is captured by the Initiative setting in motion the events I wrote about above.

In the final scenes of “New Moon Rising” Oz, in his spur of the moment way, tells Willow that he is leaving her and Sunnydale again pretty much now. In a scene that parallels the Willow and Oz parting scene at the end of “Wild at Heart” and the Willow and Oz fall in love in “Surprise”/“Innocence”, Oz goes once more out of Willow’s life. With Oz gone Willow goes to Tara’s dorm room to tell her that, as Tara tells her she understands that she has to be with the one she loves, that she is. Wonderful scene that made me extremely happy, tearfully happy.

The other 500 pound complication in the Buffy room is Angel. With Riley fully, at least for the moment, free of the Initiative, hiding from the Initiative in the ruins of Sunnydale High, and free, at least for the moment, of that Initiative humans good, demons evil bigotry, Buffy decides to tell Riley about Angel, the good vampire, though how much she tells him about Angel is uncertain at this point. Buffy and Riley seem once again to be reconciled but how much all of these complications will continue to play in their relationship is unclear. I suppose we will see how these complications play out in future episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

There are several new moons rising in “New Moon Rising”. Adam prepares to set in motion a war between the humans and the demons. The Initiative and the Scoobies have become enemies. Spike is secretly working with Adam. Willow and Tara become a couple and their secret is out if only to Oz and Buffy. Buffy, by the way, is thrown, as the script says, and becomes somewhat distant from the new Willow rising and keeps saying Will’s name like that even though she wants to be supportive best friend girl. It takes her what seems like a minute or two before she says that she is absolutely not freaked and that she finally comes around to the “new” Willow and becomes, once again, supportive best friend girl. Scoobies assembling or Scoobies disassembling?

“Whatever, you know, happens? I'll still be here. I mean, I'll still be your friend”. We don’t know everything about Tara yet, including why she intentionally undermined a spell to find evil in Sunnydale in “Goodbye Iowa”. What we do know about Tara in “New Moon Rising” is that she really cares for Willow and that she is really supportive of Willow even when she thinks she is going back to Oz. I like Tara. A lot.

The Continuing Saga of Giles's Unlocked Door. This week it is Oz and Spike who, unbeknownst to the Scoobies, make their way into Giles's flat while they are having one of their Scooby meetings. Does Giles not lock his door? Is the door lock broken? Who cares, it has become a very funny running gag in season four.

The Chorus. Wonderful episode. One of the things “New Moon Rising” does, among other things, is to continue to complicate Buffy’s conception of theodicy or evil. If Buffy began with a largely manichean conception of evil, a conception of evil I suppose one would expect to find among those in their teen years, Buffy’s conception of evil is no longer of the demons bad, humans good variety. That the Initiative has still not grown out of the binary stage of human ideological development is one of the differences between our Scoobies and the rather naïve and militaristically simple-minded Initiative.