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.

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