Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Buffy Blog: "A New Man"

“These Halls Are Quite the Labyrinth”. If “Fear Itself” took us inside the turmoil lurking inside of Buffy, Xander, Willow, and Oz, if “Something Blue” took us inside the inner turmoil of Willow as she tried to deal with the deep pain associated with her loss of Oz, “A New Man” takes us inside Giles to glimpse the turmoil lurking beneath the surface of Buffy’s ex-Watcher. This makes “A New Man”, a kind of companion piece to that Giles-centric episode from season two “Dark Age”, a Giles centred episode that like “A New Man” also took us inside Giles for a look at the sometimes dark turmoil within.

Giles, as we have seen throughout season four is, given that he is no longer Buffy’s Watcher, somewhat lost not only when it comes to knowing who he is, but also when it comes to knowing what he is supposed to be doing and what his role in the Slayer’s life should be. He is still Buffy’s father figure but, since Buffy has left for college and is now supposed to be on the path to self-sufficiency, he is not the father to Buffy that he used to be.

Giles is no longer as central a part of the Scooby Gang either as his absence in the demon hunting and fighting throughout season four thus far indicates. His only ties to the Scooby Gang are, apart from Scoobies Assemble get together for Thanksgiving in “Pangs”, the occasional visit from Buffy to talk about the commando guys, the occasional visit from Willow, the presence of another lost soul in his apartment Spike, and, most often, the work he and Xander, another Scooby who seems lost internally and largely absent from Scooby activities in season four.

Giles has been throughout season four a Watcher without a vocation now that he has been fired from his job by the Watcher’s Council. He has been a librarian without a library job since the Sunndydale High School Library where he worked was blown up as a result of the Scoobies battle against the mayor, the mayor who made a brief cameo appearance as charred mayor meat in “Doomed”. Add to this a man who is trying to teach his former Slayer charge a bit of self-sufficiency and you have a man with too much leisure time on his hands, so much leisure time, in fact, that he has been watching television to fill in the new found blanks in his life.

“Ethan. You Bloody Rotten Tosser”. While Giles is dusting around his flat he remembers something and looks in one of his books to discover that the the Demon Prince Barvain is supposed to rise that night. He calls the Scoobies to assemble, well Xander and Willow, Buffy is missing in Riley action, and off they go to the crypt in which Prince Barvain is supposed to rise so they can kill him.

There is, however, no demon rising in the crypt tonight and once Willow mentions that the Initiative has probably already taken care of it, the Initiative that Giles, up to now knows nothing about, the Initiative of which Riley, who Giles met for the first time at a surprise birthday party for Buffy staged by Willow and Xander earlier, a birthday party at which Giles feels very much out of place just as he feels out of place in Buffy’s life and Scooby battles at the moment, is a member, and the Initiative that Giles now knows, is the name of the organization that the commando guys that he and Buffy have been trying to figure out who they are and what they are up to. Giles is rather put out particularly since even Spike knows who the Initiative is before he does.

Feeling lost and feeling that nothing is going to happen Giles sends Xander and Wilow home. Soon after they leave he too picks up his ritual items and heads toward the door into the sun already set. After Giles leaves someone steps out of the darkness at the back of the crypt. It’s Giles old nemesis Ethan Rayne. As is typical of Ethan, Rayne launches into a monologue about how something is about to happen, presumably to Giles given what has happened between Giles’s and Ethan in the “Halloween”, “Dark Age”, and “Band Candy” past. Hearing something Giles comes back into the crypt and catches Ethan in the you’re going to get yours now Giles act.

Giles threatens to thrash Ethan if for no other reason than to improve his day. But he doesn’t. Ethan claims that he has some important information for Giles and off they head to a pub for a few, beers a few too many beers. Ethan tells Giles something he has learned from his demon contacts. There is, he says, something out there, something dark that is bringing pain as bright as steel to the demon world, upsetting the balance by blundering into places it shouldn’t, something called three-fourteen.

After a few more beers and a bit more melancholy talk between Giles and Ethan about how they are old mystics in a world that has passed them by, Giles heads home to bed. The next morning he awakes to find that Ethan has slipped him a mickey and he is now a Fyral Demon (shades of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis), “A New Man’s” monster of the week.

Paralysing Mucus: Shoots Out the Nose”. Fyral Demons are, as Spike later tells Giles, strong and have a like to crush, crush now mentality. And strong Giles is as he inadvertently punches a hole through his wall, detaches part of his staircase railing from its moorings, and crushes his telephone. Needing help to find Ethan and get him, or, one suspects, thrash him into, reversing the spell, Demon Giles heads to Xander’s basement. Unfortunately, Fyral Giles can no longer speak English, however, so when Demon Giles wakes Xander all Xander can see is yet another demon who has, like a magnet, been drawn to him.

Facing a barrage of pots and pans from Xander Giles flees Xander’s dank and dark basement for the brightness of a dangerous suburban landscape full of men with leaf blowers, women with groceries, and children. Eventually Demon Giles makes his way to a cemetery where he runs into, you got it, Spike.

“Oh, I Like Money”. Earlier in the episode Spike left Xander’s basement for somewhere dark and dank but not as dark and dank as Xander’s basement. Anya tries to give him Xander’s electric light for his new digs, as is traditional, but Xander says that gift giving is not appropriate among bitter enemies. I thought his bitter enemy was Angel? Spike is hanging around one of Sunnydale’s many cemeteries when, as I said, Giles runs into him in demon form. Spike almost immediately recognizes that the Fyarl Demon he spies with his little eye is Giles since he understands Fyarl. He once had a couple of them working for him, he says. After some negotiation Spike agrees to help Giles find Ethan without involving the Slayer, who has been off doing her own thing with Riley and her new friends, for most of the episode anyway, for $200 dollars. Giles, it seems, wants to take care of his demony problem without involving the Slayer.

So off they go, Giles and Spike together in Giles’s Citroen, Spike driving, looking for Ethan. After returning to the pub scene of the crime to get Ethan’s number from a waitress he gave it to the night before, Giles and Ethan head to the place Ethan is staying, the same cheap hotel Faith stayed at before the mayor moved her into classier digs in season three, the Sunnydale Motor Inn.

“I Think It Ate Him Up”. In the meantime, Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Anya discover that Giles is missing and his apartment has been torn apart. They fear he has been kidnapped. After some research the discover that the demon Xander saw is a Fyarl Demon and that it can only be killed with something silver.

The Initiative too is searching for the Fyral Demon. The Initiative has discovered, thanks to their secretive monitoring of 911 calls, that a demon was seen near Xander’s and that Giles’s neighbours heard growling, things breaking, and what sounded like a struggle coming from his apartment. Riley has come to investigate the sounds of struggle in Giles’s digs and finds the Scoobies there.

“It’s a Test of Syncronicity”. The Scoobies soon realise that the Fyarl Demon who they think attacked and kidnapped Giles and who attacked Professor Walsh on the street in front of the Espresso Pump, is not, nor is his kind, big on the independent thinking. They begin to think that the Fyral Demon may be doing someones bidding. But if he is why would he steal Giles’s car, that car?

Willow tells Buffy that she has noticed spells going wrong, including, though she doesn’t tell Buffy this, a floating of the rose and peeling the petals from a rose spell she and Tara did the night before. She wonders aloud whether someone is using magicks to control the Fyral Demon. So off Buffy and Riley go to the Magic Shop to see if anyone has recently bought supplies. At the Magic Box Buffy discovers that someone has indeed recently bought magick supplies, a someone named Ethan Rayne.

“A New Man” continues to counterpoint Initiative high tech military ways of finding and dealing with demons with the ancient research and slay them methods of the Scoobies and Buffy. The Initiative chases Giles’s Citroen in full military garb and in military Humvees. Riley has a key that opens every business in town including the Magic Shop. Riley calls for information to help track down Ethan Rayne. Buffy and the Scoobies do research and good old fashioned footwork to figure out what’s going on. Buffy and Riley working together to figure out who is behind the disappearance of Giles and where Ethan Rayne is hold up seems the best of both worlds.

Giles, by offering Spike an extra hundred dollars, escapes from the Commandos, as does Spike but not the Citroen which Spike crashes into a loading dock. Giles finds Ethan and threatens to rip his arms off and stuff them, somewhere, when Buffy and Riley arrive at Ethan’s motel room. Ethan tells the Slayer that the Fyarl Demon is trying to kill him and after a fight Buffy stabs Demon Giles with a letter opener she has taken from Giles’s apartment because she thinks it is silver, the silver that can kill a Fyral Demon. Fortunately for her and fortunately for Giles it is not. For as Buffy stabs what she thinks it is a Fyral Demon she sees in its eyes, eyes Buffy tells Giles afterwards, that are the only ones that can look that annoyed with her, that the Fyral Demon she just thought she had killed is Giles.

With Giles back to normal and Ethan arrested by the Initiative, which we now know is part of the US military, and sent to a place in the Nevada desert, Area 54 presumably, for “rehabilitation”, the monster danger of the week is over. Or is it?

“He’s Part of Something We Don’t Understand”/“Be Careful With Her. She Reacts on Instinct”. Buffy’s and Riley’s relationship with each other becomes closer in “A New Man”. They kiss like cocoa, both hot and sweet. They engage in wow you’re amazing and you are really are strong fighting with each other. Riley introduces Buffy, the Slayer, to Professor Walsh for the first time. Maggie tells Buffy that their goals are similar even if their methods are different. Buffy tells Walsh and Riley about her methods, about the many demons she has killed, including snake mayor in “Graduation Day”, and about her death and resurrection in season one’s “Prophecy Girl".

Though Buffy and Riley work with each other to find Giles and Ethan Rayne, Giles and Maggie, at the end of “A New Man” remind their charges that Riley is a member of a military commando unit that they still don’t know everything about and which may be, Ethan’s questionable veracity fully recognized, involved in something potentially dangerous. Riley, now spouting spontaneous poetic exclamations like she, Buffy, is the truest soul I know, warns Riley that she reacts on pure instinct and is undisciplined, unlike the Initiative, and that she must be handled with care. She even orders Riley at one point in “A New Man” not to take Buffy with him to the motel where Ethan Rayne is registered.

“On the Door: Room Number 314”. Though Maggie agrees with Riley that there is probably noting to fear from Buffy “A New Man” ends with Maggie entering a room that we soon see, thanks to the kino eye, has the number 314 on its door. Is there something to fear from Maggie and the Initiative? Only season four can tell.

“Although I Do Hate Her Quite a Lot”: After Giles realizes that The Demon Prince Barvain is about to rise he goes to Professor Walsh’s office to see if Buffy is there. During the conversation between the two the differences between them, differences that are reflective, as well, of the groups they lead, become very clear. Giles, as he tells Walsh, believes in letting young people find their own footing and their own strengths. Walsh disagrees finding Buffy’s independence and self-reliance potentially unhealthy since, as she says, it is unhealthy to take on adult roles too early. She goes on to say that what she sees in Buffy is someone who doesn’t have a strong male role model in her life, an “observation, whether she knows it or not, that is a put down of Giles who has since season one been Buffy’s very present and wonderful male fatherly role model. I found it a vicarious experience of joy when Demon Giles chases the “fish wife” Walsh down street in front of the Espresso Pump for these rather pompous and self-satisfied remarks. Academics boo. Giles yeah.

“The rose QUIVERS, and then LIFTS”: There is a developing closeness between Willow and Tara which you can see in their faces and in their eyes as they sit, faces toward other, hands joined over a rose, eyes closed as they cast the lifting of the rose spell. It is a closeness of friendship. It is a closeness perhaps of approaching romance? What is it with Willow, Tara, and hands?

“It’s Ten Thirty in the Morning”. Xander is still asleep at 10:30 in the morning when Giles, in Fyral Demon form stops by to get some help finding Ethan so he can revert to Giles form. Is he still working at the pizza place? Nights?

“So long, farewell, Auf wiedersehen, good night”: “A New Man” will be the last time we will see Giles’s beloved Citroen and Giles’s beloved nemesis Ethan Rayne. Boo.

The Chorus: “A New Man”, written by Jane Espenson, next to Joss Whedon my favourite Buffy writer, and directed by Michael Gershman, is a wonderful episode that moves the Initiative arc along, the Buffy-Riley arc alone, the Willow and Tara arc along, and the Giles arc along.

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