Monday, July 9, 2012

Buffy Blog: "Doomed"

Previously on “Hush”: “Doomed”, begins where “Hush” left off. Buffy is sitting on her bed, Riley on Willow’s. Riley says to Buffy “Well I guess we have to talk”. Buffy responds with “I guess we do”. For what seems like minutes, however, neither Buffy nor Riley do talk. Buffy and Riley kissing and Buffy and Riley getting their voices back from the Gentlemen who stole them hasn’t seemed to help them communicate with one another any better than before.

“Who Are You?”: Finally Buffy speaks saying “Well somebody should speak before one of us graduates”. With the ice broken Buffy and Riley ask who each of them really are beyond their Clark Kent facades. Buffy tells Riley that she is the Slayer, the Chosen One, she who hangs out in cemeteries. Since Riley is reluctant to tell Buffy much about his secret identity she fills in the blanks “[a] little to well”, as Riley notes. Riley, Buffy says, belongs to a “military monster squad that rounds up demons, vampires”. See what a little research, study, and critical thinking can do.

“The End of the World. Again?!”. The monsters of the week are three very strong and skilled at fighting Vahrall demons. As “Doomed” unfolds we learn that the Vahrall demons are, as the earthquake that occurs in the teaser of the episode indicates, an earthquake that turns out not to be simply an earthquake, trying to open the hellmouth.

Throughout acts one, two, and three the Vahrall demons search for the ritual items they need in order to open the hellmouth: a chalice filled the blood of a student a Vahrall has killed at the Porter House dorm after earthquake party, a bag of bones taken from a crypt with the symbol Willow sees on the chest of the dead victim in Porter Hall, and the Word of Valios, a talisman.

“Looks Like We’re Going Back to High School”. Once the Vahrall demons collect all the items they need to ritually open the hellmouth, including the Word of Valios which they viciously take from a Giles who thinks it is a knock off and has stuck it in a box full of mystical odds and ends he keeps in an old trunk in his apartment, they head to the late and lamented Sunnydale High School to open the hellmouth. So do our Scoobies and Spike, who is being dragged along by Willow and reluctantly by Xander because of his suicidal tendencies after being taken to the vet.

At Sunnydale High the Scoobies find the Vahralls engaged in a ritual incantation to open the hellmouth and they swing into fighting mode. After one of the Vahralls, with ritual object, in hand jumps into a tunnel into the earth over the hellmouth setting off an earthquake aftershock, Xander realizes that it is the three Vahrall demons themselves, each holding the ritual objects, that are the sacrifice that will open the hellmouth and bring about the end of the world. The Scoobies switch into stop the Vahrall’s from jumping into the opening over the hellmouth mode.

Spike, however, who after being hit by the Vahralls finally hits back and realizes that there is no pain and that he can fight demons, hasn’t gotten the memo. Excited out of the depression that he is in because he is been turned into a bunny by soldier guys Spike throws a second Vahrall demon into the opening over the hellmouth and a second aftershock occurs. With the ruin of a High School now coming down Buffy goes into full Slayer works alone mode and tells the Scoobies and Spike to get out of the high school.

As the Scoobies leave Riley enters. Riley earlier during one of the two discussion-arguments, one in act two, one in act three, he has with Buffy about the future of their relationship—Buffy dooms it—diagnoses—there’s nothing more dangerous than a psychology graduate student Buffy observes—what he sees as a go and do it alone mentality in the Slayer. When the injured third Vahrall grabs the Word of Valios and manages to hurtle himself in the tunnel over the hellmouth Buffy tells Riley that she is going in after it, Riley responds that he intends to for Buffy to come back and that he intends to help her return from the tunnel into the earth she is about to jump into. Riley attaches a grappling hook from the retracting cable utility he has on his utility belt. After what seems like minutes the cable tightens in Riley’s hand and he begins to pull it up. Finally Buffy emerges with Vahrall demon in hand. Apocalypse denied once again. See even Slayers need a hand now and then.

“Let’s Fight That Evil”. “Dooomed” ends with world apocalypse over but Riley’s sense of apocalyptic doom that is a product of his secret identity being outed to Buffy, Wilow, Xander, and his sense of doom that his relationship with Buffy being over still intact. Buffy comes to Riley’s Lowell House room (we see it for the first time in this episode) and tells him that his world has not yet ended implying that their relationship may not be doomed after all. “Doomed” ends with Spike back fully in Spike ready to hunt and kill again, but this time ready to annihilate and doom evil demons and vampires at the side of Buffy and the Scoobies, mode. Only time will tell where the Buffy-Riley relationship and Spike fighting on the side of good is going.

Official Sounding Euphemism Guys versus the Mediaeval Folklore Garbage Scoobies. One of the themes at the heart of “Doomed” and of season four is that there is a difference between the Initiative and our Scoobies. The Initiative, as I have noted before in these blog posts, is a military organization that, as Buffy says, rounds up and does research on demons, which they refer to in official sounding euphemisms like hostile subterranians, HST’s, Sub-Terrestrials, turning some of them, in the process, into harmless bunnies. They hunt their HST’s, as we have seen over the course of season four thus far, in the latest in “fall fascism” commando gear with the latest in high tech military technology including retracting cables, stun guns, taser guns, pheromone signature detectors, and temperature detectors for use against vampires.

The Initiative, well certainly Forrest and, with a bit of convincing, Riley, see HST’s as nothing more than “animals”, animals who, at the moment, are simply rattling their cages because of the earthquake that recently occurred in Sunnydale. There is, in the Initiative mind, apparently nothing more to demon motivations than pure instinct. As to portents they see and hear in this episode there is no meaning to the earthquake that occurred in Sunnydale beyond the scientific in the Forrest and Riley mindset.

As to the Slayer, Initiative commando guy Forrest tells Riley, when he asks who the Slayer (after a wonderfully humourous reference to the heavy metal thrash band with delusions of Black Sabbath Slayer), tells Riley that the Slayer he has recently met in the form of all temperature Buffy, is a Bogeyman Sub-Terrestrials have dreamed up to get their demon “spawn” to “eat their vegetables” and “clean up their slime pits”.

Buffy the Slayer and her Scoobies are as different as they can be from the Initiative, differences which are, by the way, mirrored not only in “Doomed”s” dialogue and action but in its mise-en-scene and cross cutting. While the Initiative hunts their HST Vahrall demon animal with their high tech “toys” the Scoobies are pouring through books trying to find out who the demons are, what they want, what they are trying to do, and what the meaning of the ancient symbols they are drawing on the chests of those they kill is. They treat the HST’s the Initiative sees as “animals” as beings, at least in the case of the Vahrall demons, with intelligence and rational motivations.

The Employment Line: Xander, after the events of “Pangs”, is no longer working in construction. He is now working at a pizza place. Xander, in other words, is still trying to find his place in a post-high school I didn’t go to college world.

“Hello dating a guitarist? Or, I was”: Percy, the jock Willow was forced to tutor in “Doppelgangland” (3:16), is back. Willow runs into him and his girlfriend Laurie at the after earthquake bash at Porter Hall dormitory. She overhears him tell his jealous girlfriend that he would never go out with a geek, a member of the nerd squad, and an egghead like Willow. Willow’s self-esteem takes a tumble in spite of the fact, as she says, that she is dating a cool guitarist, a cool guitarist that has, remember, recently left her. Willow’s remark about dating a guitarist recalls her I’m dating a musician I am now cool remark to Amy and her mother in “Gingerbread” (3:11) but turns it in a bit less self-confident direction.

“I’m a Bloody Animal! Yeah!!: Spike, as I mentioned earlier has been depressed since being turned into a bunny by the Initiative sometime between his capture in “Wild at Heart” and his escape from his cage in the Initiative’s underground lair in “The Initiative. Spike is still living in Xander’s basement”. Giles, even after Olivia has left, apparently has not taken him off Xander’s hands.

At one point in “Doomed”, after Spike has proved as inept at fixing the pipes in Xander’s basement apartment after it has been damaged by the earthquake, as he is at being a bunny, attempts suicide by staking while wearing Xander’s shorts and flowery shirt because he has shrunk his own while trying to wash and dry them. Willow stops him from taking his own life because, as she tells Xander, we know him and, of course, she knows he’s not a threat to humankind any longer now that the Initiative have taken him to the vet to be spayed.

It may appear at first that Spike, after Willow saves him, is a broken “animal” but he isn’t. Spike attempts to drive a stake between the Willow and Xander and Buffy as they come out of a Sunnydale museum they have gone to to try to find the Word of Valios which they think, at this point, is a book. Spike plays on Willow’s fear that she still may be the same softer side of Sears loser she was in high school despite her dating of a guitarist, a guitarist who just left her. He plays on Xander’s fear that he may be stuck in the basement working dead in jobs forever. He plays on the fears of both that they are not so much helping Buffy in the fight against evil as just getting in her way. Needless to say, these fear, the fears of the Scoobies we saw on display in “Fear Itself”, are a theme of season four and part of the theme of growing up that has been at the heart of Buffy almost since it began.

By the end of “Doomed”, as I noted, Spike the bloody animal is back and, at least for the moment, seemingly interested in fighting evil by the side of the Scoobies. Given his manipulation of Willow’s and Xander’s fears, however, one has to wonder how serious he is about this and how honest he is being with Willow and Xander when he says wants to round up the Scoobies and go on a hunt and kill evil expedition rather than watch TV. Only time, I suppose, will tell.

The Chorus. “Doomed” was written by Marti Noxon, David Fury, and Jane Espenson. Usually when an episode of Buffy was written by more than one or two writers it means that an episode was rewritten and/or that an episode was late.

Many scholar fans have seen “Doomed” as a bit of a let down coming, as it does, in the wake of the brilliant “Hush”. But almost any episode of almost any television show would be somewhat of a let down next to one of the finest near hours of television. “Doomed” does what it sets out to do well even if it is yet another end of the world tale. It moves the Buffy and Riley arc along, it moves the Initiative arc along, and it moves the Spike arc along. And it is on its success at doing each of these that it should be judged.

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