Saturday, July 14, 2012

Buffy Blog" Musings on "This Year's Girl" and "Who Are You"

The question of who people are has been one of the themes at the heart of Buffy season four thus far. Buffy, Willow, and Xander have been wondering who they are now that they are no longer in high school and they all seem to be going their own ways. Giles has been wondering who he is since he lost his jobs as Watcher and librarian and has been much less a part of the Scoobies lives this season than in previous seasons. The Scoobies have been wondering who the Initiative are almost since the beginning of the season. Riley is wondering who he is since Maggie tried to kill Buffy and since he learned that the Initiative that he thought were the good guys have been feeding him body altering drugs and have created the a hybrid monster Adam. Adam wants to know who he is and what his purpose is.

“Little Sis Coming”. In “This Year’s Girl” and “Who Are You” a blast from the Buffy past is back and she too, through the course of the episode, will begin to wonder who she is. Faith the Vampire Slayer is back.

The last time we saw Faith was in the season three finale “Graduation Day”. If you remember in that episode Faith fell into a coma after she fell from her upper floor apartment onto a moving lorry after being knifed by the Buffster. Though she is in a coma Faith continues to dream just as she did in “Graduation Day”. As in “Graduation Day” there is a prophetic aspect to Faith’s dreams, just as there is to many of Buffy’s. In Faith’s dream Faith is in Buffy’s room at 1630 Revello Drive. Together they are, as the script describes it, ritually making Buffy’s bed. Faith mentions that she knows Buffy has to go since “[l]ittle sis” is coming, a reference to Faith as Buffy’s little sister Slayer. Is Faith coming back? Or is this reference to little sis a reference to some other little sister who is coming? This part of Faith’s dream parallels that in “Graduation Day” where Faith and Buffy are in Faith’s apartment, where Faith’s bed has a prominent role in the dream, and where Faith makes a reference to “Little Miss Muffet counting down from seven three o”.

Suddenly blood begins to drip on the white sheets Buffy and Faith have just ritually put on the bed. White is the colour of innocence while blood is the “colour” of death, resurrection, and salvation in Christian mythology and ideology. Does Faith think she is innocent? Is Faith about to rise from the coma “dead”? The teaser ends with Faith asking Buffy if she is ever going to take “this”, the knife that we now see sticking in Faith’s stomach, the knife Buffy stuck in her stomach in the climatic Slayer versus Slayer battle in “Graduation Day”. Suddenly “This Year’s Girl” cuts from Faith’s dream to Faith’s reality where she lies in a coma in a dark hospital room, alone. Cue Buffy theme song and title sequence.

The next time we see little sis Faith is still dreaming. This time Faith’s dream is less a prophetic dream than it is a dream that gives us additional insight into how Faith sees what happened between her and Buffy in “Graduation Day”. In Faith’s dream she is having a wonderful summer picnic with her surrogate father, Mayor Richard Willkins, complete with garter snake crawling across their picnic blanket, a reference to the snake the mayor became in “Graduation Day”, a snake who, in Faith’s mind, like the garter snake we have just seen crawling across the blanket and just seen Willkins gently pick up and send on its way, was harmless, when suddenly the impatient and peeved Buffy appears and hacks the mayor apart.

Buffy continues to hunt Faith through the dark of night and thundering rain in Faith’s revisionist take on “Graduation Day”. Panic stricken Faith runs from a calm Buffy with knife in hand but runs straight into a grave, a rectangular grave that parallels her rectangular grave like hospital bed. Buffy jumps into the grave to kill Faith. After a few seconds hands emerge out of the pit and Faith climbs out of her grave. While letting out a yell of triumph and agony real Faith like Dream Faith is resurrected out of her grave, out of her coma just as Buffy was resurrected out of her coma while in the hospital in “Graduation Day” after Faith asks Buffy if she is ready in their collective dream.

“You Took my Life, B, Paybacks a Bitch”. Finding out that Sunnydale High School has been blown up and that the mayor and principal are dead Faith escapes the hospital by stealing the clothes of a lost hospital visitor by beating her unconscious. The dark and eerily absent of any people hospital hall in which this scene takes place recalls the hospital basement in “Killed by Death”. With the police, she is still wanted for questioning for a series of murders, and the Watcher’s Council, the nurse taking care of Faith makes a call to tell someone on the other side of the line, presumably someone at the Council, telling him or her that “[i]ts happened…[s]end the team”, on her tail Faith heads to Giles’s apartment to see what the Scoobies are up to. Watching them through the window as though she is watching a film or a television programme, voyeur Faith learns about Riley and overhears a telephone conversation between Buffy and someone on the other side of the line informing the Slayer that there is an emergency, Faith is out of her coma and has escaped her hospital tomb.

Narratively, Faith’s appearing as yet another very dangerous Big Bad at this point in the seasonal arc is somewhat akin to Angel going all Angelus in season two’s “Surprise/“Innocence”. As Angel going to the dark side made the threat of Spike and Drusilla to the Scoobies and humanity itself even worse than it was, the reappearance of the “homicidal lunatic” Faith makes the pursuit of the “homicidal maniac” Adam much more complicated and difficult than it had been, and it already was a herculean task, since the Scoobies now have to spend time tracking down and dealing with Faith and that takes them away from tracking down and dealing with Adam.

Faith confronts Buffy and Willow on the UC, Sunnydale campus telling them that she has not forgotten how the holier than thou self-righteous blondie gutted her and that she is now ready for a little pay back. Faith and Buffy fight briefly but with police sirens in the background Faith flees the cops and ends up in one of Sunnydale’s alleys confronted by a demon who tells her that he has a remembrance for her from... Before he can tell little sis who it is from Faith, slipping into demons are evil mode, kills him, before he can tell her who that friend was and what he wanted him to tell or give her. Faith spies an oversized manila envelope marked "Office of the Mayor, Sunnydale CA." the demon has in his hands. It’s for her from the mayor. She puts the video that was in the envelope into a video machine to discover that Willkins has left a little surprise for a Faith he can no longer protect as he once did.

We find out what this surprise is when Faith invades Buffy’s home, takes Joyce prisoner—Buffy is, by the way, as absent from Joyce’s life as she was from Faith’s while she lay in a coma—and, when Buffy appears, has a knock down drag out fight with the Buffser before, after allowing Buffy to pummel her weakening her , uses the “gizmo” that the mayor has surprised her with to do a body switch. Buffy becomes Faith and Faith becomes Buffy.

“Because That Would Be Bad”. For most of the second part of the episode Faith takes control of Buffy’s body and Buffy is forced to inhabit Faith’s body. Though Joyce seems momentarily to recognise that Buffy is not herself and Willow briefly wonders whether something might be wrong with the Buffanator, Faith as Buffy, after practicing for her role as Buffy in the mirror after she takes a bath at 1630 Revello, manages to fool almost every one of the Scoobies into believing that she is Buffy. Faith as Buffy goes to Scooby Central at Giles’s apartment, she tells Spike that he hates her because she’s a “stuck up tight-ass with no sense of fun” (a metacommentary, if a not entirely fair one, on Buffy as a character in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and that she could make him pop like warm champagne if she wanted to, she runs into Willow and, meets Tara for the first time, at the Bronze where she tells Tara that she didn’t know Willow was driving stick now, and she has sex with Riley.

Faith as Buffy’s interaction with the Scoobies is beginning to impact her. She feels bad after Joyce scolds her for saying that Buffy as Faith will probably meet some big ol' Bertha just waiting to shower her ripe little self with affection in prison after Joyce tells Faith as Buffy that she thinks Faith is unhappy. She feels Joyce’s love for Buffy when Joyce puts her arm around her and gives her a hug. She feels the real thankfulness of a young woman she rescues from a vampire outside the Bronze. She feels a different kind of sex from the role playing they leave you when its done sex she has experienced up to now, sex as love, when she goes to bed with Riley at the Lowell House. As a result of changed circumstances in her environment Faith/Buffy slowly but surely moves from mocking Buffy’s “because that would be bad” mantra toward feeling a sense of duty and a sense of responsibility to fight against the forces of evil a la the Buffster because they are bad.

Faith’s growing sense of duty and responsibility to fight evil kicks in just as Faith/Buffy prepares to take a flight out of Sunnydale. Before her plane leaves, however, she watches a news report about “three frighteningly disfigured almost inhuman” men—we know they are vampires—who have barricaded themselves in a church with at least twenty hostages. Without hesitating Faith/Buffy goes to their rescue.

Buffy/Faith has spent most of the second half of the episode in Watcher Team custody. When Buffy/Faith tells them that she is Buffy rather than Faith they don’t believe her. Before the Watcher Team can kill her, the contingency plan they have gotten permission to put into effect (lots of contingency killing plans this season so far) Buffy/Faith escapes from the Watcher Council team and heads to Giles’s. Not quite able to convince Giles (love that reference to Giles as a stevedore in bed that Buffy/Faith said she heard in Joyce’s internal monologue when she was psychic Buffy in season three's “Earshot”, 3:18) and not interested in “bondage fun”—is there a little bit of Faith in the Buffster?—Willow and Tara arrive and reveal that they performed a spell that revealed that Faith/Buffy is not Buffy. When Tara met Faith/Buffy she recognized that the energy of her aura was fragmented rather than a unity, as they normally are, and that she was also mean if not hyena mean (love that Willow references the unpleasantness of hyena possession from season one’s “The Pack”, 1:6). Tara to the rescue.

Tara and Willow give Buffy/Faith a home conjured version of the Katra spell that Faith/Buffy used to change bodies. Xander calls to tell Giles to turn on the tele and Buffy/Faith, Willow, Tara, and Giles learn what Faith/Buffy already knows, vampires have taken hostages in one of Sunnydale’s local churches. Scoobies to the rescue. Faith/Buffy arrives at the church before the Scoobies. She kills one of the vamps, forces another to flee into Riley’s arms outside—it is his church that has been taken over—who tosses the fleeing vampire into the sun to die, and is about to kill the third when poof goes the vampire and enter stage right Buffy/Faith. Yet another epic Slayer on Slayer battle takes place ending with this year’s girls once again last year’s girls, with Buffy back in Buffy and Faith back in Faith and with Faith fleeing, as far as we know at this point, for places unknown.

“You Slept With Her?” “This Year’s Girl” and “Who Are You” ends with a hint that something may be wrong with Buffy’s and Riley’s relationship. Buffy learns that Riley slept with her, Faith. Can Buffy really depend on supposedly dependable Riley anymore?

“I Just Suck at the Whole Gray Area Thing”. Riley leaves the hospital in the Initiative lair, Buffy’s scarf in hand, and finds the Buffy and the Scoobies in Xander’s basement. Buffy tells Riley that though he has followed orders all his life he doesn’t have to anymore. He can do what she did, quit the organization that was giving her orders, orders she obeyed when she was going to do what they ordered her to do anyway, the Watcher’s Council. Buffy, as we know, really has never been a by the book Slayer. Riley decides not to quit the Initiative. He decides that he is going to share information with the Scoobies. Riley, in other words, makes a decision for himself.

Riley is with the Scoobies at Giles’s apartment when the Slayerettes get the word that Faith is out of her coma and is somewhere in Sunnydale. The Scoobies go into what are we going to do about Faith mode while Riley disappears from the frame entirely. It is only when Riley asks “who’s Faith” that Teutonic boy comes back into frame. Is the mise-en-scene telling us something about Riley’s future in the Scooby gang? Is it telling us something about Riley’s future with Buffy?

“I Trust You”. The Willow and Tara relationship is really growing close. In “The I in Team” Tara, after Willow told her that she wanted to have something that was hers and hers alone, told Willow that she was her’s, Willows’. In “This Year’s Girl” and “Who Are You” Willow and Tara perform a spell to find out if Buffy is really Buffy. The spell is very clearly a metaphor for sex and the orgasms that sometimes result from sex. Magic as a metaphor for Willow and Tara sex. Faith is the first to recognise that Willow is no longer driving stick.

“Hi, honey”. Joyce is back and, after she responds to Faith’s “OK: How do I look” with “Psychotic”, Faith says she has a pair on her. Joyce is missing Buffy who hasn’t been coming around much to 1630. Joyce is sympathetic to Faith’s plight asking Faith/Buffy how she thinks Faith got to be the way she is and wondering what drove her to become the way she is.

“You're disgusting! A useless, murderous bitch!” Faith has a case of self-hatred. When Joyce asks her, after she has taken over Buffy’s body, why Faith is the way that she is, Faith/Buffy replies, “she’s a nut job”. When Faith in Buffy’s body beats herself in the form of Buffy at the church she yells at herself, “You're disgusting! A useless, murderous bitch!” The transformed Faith is apparently beginning to feel guilty (or perhaps has long felt guilty) about what she has done in the past and this is manifesting itself in self-hatred.

“But It’s Time to Face Your Fear”. Adam does not appear extensively in “This Year’s Girl” and “Who Are You”. He flays a demon so, as Willow says, he can see how things work. He is still, in other words, discovering things in a rather clinical and dispassionate way about the world. Adam has been thinking about vampires, about the fact that, like him, they are hybrids, and he has been reflection on vampire fears. It is Adam who convinces three vampires to go to a church in order to confront their fears about the cross and the god who they fear who supposedly lies behind it. Adam as psychological therapist. The vamps intend to start killing god’s people to see if he will show. If he doesn’t that means that they have proved that their fear of the cross an irrational one. Adam the bringer of scientific empirical enlightenment to the vampire world.

Buffy references The Patty Duke Show (ABC, 1963-1966), a show in which the actor Patty Duke played two roles, one as an American teenager and another, as Buffy puts it, as her “wacky identical cousin from England [who] every time she visits, hijinks ensue”. It’s not quite an accurate summary but pretty close.

The Chorus. “This Year’s Girl” written by Doug Petrie and directed by Michael Gershman and “Who Are You” written and directed by Joss Whedon, is simply awesome. Though Adam is present in the episode and it moves along the Scoobies versus Adam arc, the Adam arc isn’t at the centre of “This Year’s Girl” and “Who Are You” It is the Buffy and Faith and the Faith arcs which are at the heart of “This Year’s Girl”/“Who Are You".

Ian Shuttleworth, theatre reviewer for the Financial Times, has written superbly about the high quality of the acting in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel in his article “’They Always Mistake Me for the Character I Play’! Transformation, Identity, and Role Play in the Buffyverse (and a Defence of Fine Acting)” in Roz Kaveney’s edited collection Reading the Vampire Slayer: The New Updated Unofficial Guide to Buffy and Angel (London: Tauris, 2007). And great acting there is in Buffy. It would be criminal to single out any single episode of Buffy or any single actor in the Buffyverse for praise when it comes to acting, however, I have to give a shout out to Eliza Dushku’s Buffy and Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Faith in “This Year’s Girl” and “Who Are You”. They do an excellent job of getting the body motions, speech patterns, and facial expressions of each other down. I also want to give a shout out to Joss and Company for bringing Henry Groener, the superb actor who brilliantly fleshed out one of Buffy’s most interesting villains, Sunnydale’s mayor Richard Willkins in season three and in this episode of Buffy. It is so good to see him again. Aren’t Buffy’s villains fascinating?

Awesome. Faith/Buffy’s sexually loaded speech to Spike in the Bronze:
'Cause I could do anything I want
and instead I just pout and whine
and feel the burden of slayerness? I
mean, I could be rich, I could be
famous, I could have anything.
Anyone.
(her tone becomes intimate, hypnotic)
Even you, Spike. I could ride you at
a gallop till your legs buckled and
your eyes rolled up, I've got muscles
you've never even dreamed of, I could
squeeze you till you popped like warm
champagne and you'd beg me to hurt
you just a little bit more and you
know why I don't?
(mock serious)
Because it's wrong.

Next on Angel: Faith hops a train and heads out of Sunnydale at the end of “This Year’s Girl” and “Who Are You” (broadcast 22 and 29 February). The next time we see her will be in the Angel season one episode “Five By Five” and “Sanctuary” (1:18 and 1:19, 25 April and 2 May 2000). In this episode Faith comes to LA to take her revenge on those two others she feels have done her wrong, Angel and Wesley, and to perhaps find a bit of redemption, one of the central themes of Buffy and an even more central theme of Angel.

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