Sunday, July 1, 2012

Buffy Blog: "The Harsh Light of Day"

The Ghosts of Buffy Past. It appears to be reunion week on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As “The Harsh Light of Day, written by Jane Espenson and directed by James Contner, begins Buffy and Willow are at the Bronze watching "Dingoes Ate My Baby" perform onstage. Parker is there too and Buffy is watching him, and can watch him unlike her former boyfriend, in the mirror. Buffy and Parker, as Buffy tells Willow, have been hanging out “moderately”, “incessantly”, since we last saw them last week.

The Bronze, Dingoes, and Parker aren’t the only ones who are back in season four. Just before the commercial break Harmony (Mercedes McNab) appears and says hi to Willow while Willow is helping Dingoes load their instruments in their van outside of the Bronze. After some small talk a la the Willow and Harmony small talk in “Graduation Day” (2:21 and 2:22)—it was in “Graduation Day”, by the way, that we last saw Harmony—Harm suddenly morphs into vamp face and sinks her fangs into Willow’s neck. Teaser ends. Fear rises.

Scoobies Assemble. It’s Oz to Willow’s rescue. He pulls Harmony off Willow and places himself and his handy cross between him and Vamp Harmony. Harmony leaves in a huff telling Willow and Oz that she too has a boyfriend that she can hide behind and that he is not going to be happy that Willow and Oz were so “mean” to him. Boo hoo. Entitlement, thy name is Harmony.

While Scooby Oz is saving Scooby Willow from Harm (sorry but I couldn’t resist the pun) Parker is gallantly walking Buffy back to campus. During the walk and talk and some sitting he notices a little blast out of Buffy’s past, the very noticeable bite mark on her neck, the bite mark that she got when she allowed Angel to drink her blood (“Graduation Day”), the Slayer blood that saves him. When Parker asks what happened the Buffster blames it on the “angry puppy”.

While Buffy and Parker are getting to know one another—Buffy tells Parker she drowned (“Prophecy Girl”, 1:12) while Parker tells Buffy that his scars are less physical and more psychological and that since his fathers death he has become a devotee of the live for today philosophy—Giles and Xander are back at Giles’s apartment alphabetizing Giles’s demonology research book collection when in through the door walks yet another blast from the Buffy past, vengeance demon Anya. Anya, as forthright as ever, has returned from her get the hell away from the snake is coming apocalypse road trip, to ask Xander where their relationship is going. Xander, given that they have only dated, as he notes, twice (“The Prom”, 3:20), well really once since the second was called on account of snake, wonders what relationship?

Meanwhile back at the Buffy and Parker getting to know you fest Willow and Oz appear. Willow tells Buffy that their high school classmate Harmony has returned to Sunnydale but that she has returned much “paler” than she was before. Parker, seeing the very green bandage on Willow’s neck, asks if she is all right. Before Willow can answer Buffy tells Parker that Willow has been bitten by the “angry puppy” and that she needs to deal with it now.

Act one ends on a reveal cliffhanger. The camera shows us a Harmony saying to someone, someone we don’t see, and someone we don’t yet know, “Hi baby I’m back”. As act two opens we learn that that someone Harmony is talking to is none other than one more blast from the Buffy past. Spike.

Spike is back and he and Harmony are living underground while Spike and his minions look for the crypt that legend has it contains the Gem of Amarra, a gem that, as Giles’s notes, is the source of some kind of enormous power.

While Spike and his minions are looking for the crypt the Scoobies, once Giles’s becomes convinced that the Gem is more than a vampire version of the myth of the Holy Grail, try to stop them. Before the Scoobies can intervene, however, Spike finds the Gem of Amarra, it turns out to be a ring, with a little help from his minions and even more help from Harmony. Now immune to the deadly, for vampires, rays of the sun and immune to death itself (the enormous power of which Giles spoke), including death by Slayer stake, Spike does what Spike always does, he goes after the Slayer, he goes after Buffy.

Yet another epic fight between the Buffster and Spike ensues (remember the epic fights in "Halloween", "What's My Line", and "Lovers Walk"?) this time on the University of California Sunnydale campus and this time in the harsh light of day. With a little help from Xander—again!!!—and with a little help from Spike’s verbal abuse of her—Spike asks her if Parker played the sensitive bloke in order to spread her dimpled knees and whether he Parker her because she was too strong for the boy just as she was too much Slayer woman for Angel. The anger that arises in Buffy as a result of Spike’s verbal assaults ends up making Buffy stronger just as it did in the face of Angel’s verbal assaults in season two (“Surprise/Innocence”). Buffy eventually manages to take the ring of Amarra from Spike’s finger sending him scurrying down into the sewers to escape death from the harsh light of the sun and to once again live to presumably fight another day.

The Metaphor. In a way Buffy's mysteries of the week, this week it is the mystery of will Spike find the Gem of Amarra, are, as director Alfred Hitchcock called them, Macguffin’s, plot devices that motivate the action, plot devices which viewer’s come to care about. But Buffy, as we know by know, works on levels beyond that of plot.

Monsters of the Week: On the metaphorical level “The Harsh Light of Day” is all about women, Buffy, Harmony, and Anya, and the men, the monsters of this week, who terrorise and brutalise them both mentally and physically.

The Slayer’s monster of the week is Parker. Once Parker sleeps with Buffy, a scene, by the way, which harkens back to when Buffy slept with Angel for the first time in “Surprise”/”Innocence” (2:13 and 2:14), thanks to the red bed sheets, the fact that Parker is missing in action, and thanks to Parker promising to call Buffy but not doing so. Buffy spends much of act three waiting for Parker to call and calling her phone message machine to see if Parker did call all while she is supposed to be searching for Spike and keep him from getting hold of the Gem of Amarra. It is only when she runs into Parker on campus chatting up another coed, Katie Loomis, that Buffy realizes that Parker is manipulative and that his live for today philosophy is just a shallow way for him to “poke”, as Spike so impolitely puts it, as many women as possible. Once again, Buffy’s self-esteem takes a tumble with Buffy asking Willow if she is so repulsive that men run screaming away from her.

Harmony’s monster of the week is Spike. She loves her “blondy-bear” and “platinum baby” but he seems, at best, to barely tolerate her constant harping about wanting to go shopping, wanting to go to a party, wanting to eat out, wanting to travel, asking him whether Antonio Banderas is a vampire—the answer is no—her lack of a heartbeat, her blue veins, and her writing of Spike loves Harmony on his back because, well I am not sure, because the sex is good, perhaps? Eventually her constant nattering becomes too much for Spike to bear regardless of how good the sex is and he stakes Harmony. The stake, however, does not have Spike’s desired effect as Harmony, unbeknownst to herself or to Spike, has put the Gem of Amarra on her finger as she and he wonder through the fabled crypt housing the ring. Spike takes it off her finger and goes off in search of a Slayer to kill leaving a “pathetic” Harmony to her realization that being a vampire in love, at least with Spike, "sucks".

Finally, Anya’s monster is Scooby Xander, at least she thinks Xander is her monster male of the week. I realise that it is a bit of a stretch to put Anya in the same company as Buffy and Harmony since she tends to read things into Xander’s feelings for her that aren’t perhaps there and since she is the one to initiate sexual contact, but, and this is a big but, when Anya follows a Xander to Buffy’s and Willows’s dorm room who goes there in order to find the Buffster and tell her where Spike is, Xander tells Anya, in clipped and matter of fact terms, that he doesn’t have time for her at that moment. Is Xander still controlled by his good old time Buffy obsession? Welcome Buffy, Harmony, and Anya to the harsh light of day. “The Harsh Light of Day” ends in the black glare of the harsh darkness of night as Buffy, Harmony, and Anya all stoll together alone on the campus of UC Sunnydale forming one side of a triangle of romance born pain.

Music: Bif Naked’s song “Lucky” is nicely used to supplement the narrative of the Buffy and Parker relationship. “Lucky” begins softly and ballad like, just like Buffy’s and Parker’s relationship begins with them gently getting to know each other. The song moves toward crescendo after crescendo a la Ravel’s Bolero with the chorus repeated over and over again just as Buffy’s and Parker’s relationship moves ever more toward the final crescendo that ends with them going to bed with one another for the first time after their date at the Wolf House party, a party that Bif Naked plays “Lucky” at. “Lucky’s chorus, “I know we are, we are the lucky ones”, which is repeated over and over as the song moves toward every increasing dramatic crescendos gives one the sense that Buffy and Parker may be the lucky ones and that Buffy may finally have found the right guy. No more Mr. Dark and Broody for Buffy. Now it is Mr. Sensitive for Buffy. But hold on, what does that reference to the reaper in the lyrics of “Lucky” mean and why is Parker not calling Buffy? And why is he chatting up that other woman with the same live for today spiel he gave the Buffster?

Welcome to the Hellmouth: We see, for the first time, but not the last, someone, in this case Anya, walk in to Giles apparently unlocked unannounced. Now that is what I call preparation for demon attack. We get to see Xander’s basement apartment for the first time. Xander has sex with Anya in his basement for the first time.

The Ghosts of Buffy Past: Harmony references the fact that Spike almost killed Willow last year (“Lovers Walk”, 3:8). Harmony tells Buffy that Dru, she calls her Dorcas, left Spike for a Fungus Demon. Did Spike win Drusilla back after regaining his confidence in “Lovers Walk”? Did he take her way from the Chaos Demon who took her away from him as he tells Buffy and Angel in that episode? Did he only end up losing her again, this time to a Fungus Demon? Harmony tells Buffy that Spike is still obsessed with Dru and that is all that he talks about some days. Parker asks Buffy whether she hates dark and broody guys. Well not really. She was, as we know dear viewers, in love with dark and broody Angel.

To Be Continued: Buffy gives the Gem of Amarra to Oz to take to Los Angeles with him—Dingoes have a gig in LA—to give to Angel. Spike, of course, seeking to get the ring back learns that Buffy has sent the ring to Angel and follows in order to get it back. That story is continued in the Angel episode “In the Dark” (1:3).

Shapes of Things to Come: Are Spike and Harm the Spike and Drusilla, the Big Bads, of season four? What will happen with the Anya and Xander relationship? What will come of Buffy’s relationship with “poop-head” Parker? Is it over?

The Chorus: Very enjoyable episode with lots of Buffy wit, including the infamous Spike quip to Harmony that he love’s syphilis more than her, and lots of fascinating and elegant parallelism.

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