Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Buffy Blog: "New Moon Rising"

“New Moon Rising”, written by Marti Noxon and directed by James Contner, though it moves the Adam arc, the Initiative arc, the Initiative and Riley arc, the Buffy and Riley arc, the Spike arc, and the season four arc forward, is primarily focused on the Oz, Willow, and Tara arcs.

Adam comes to Spike’s crypt and makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Help him, Adam, with world domination by setting the demons against the humans with the Scoobies on the human side to even up the odds, and I, Adam, will take that pesky chip out of your head. Adam’s plan is not to have either side win the war between the demons and the humans, but to have the war decimate each side so that he can then step in and take over the chessboard for himself. Spike is to be on the Slayers side to insure that Buffy and the Scoobies don’t, as is their tendency, as Spike tells it, to win. On to the final act of season four?

Riley, despite what happened in “The I in Team” and “Goodbye Iowa”, is kind of back to being routine and unspontaneous soldier guy getting up in the morning when the alarm goes off, doing his pushups to stay strong, and still believing in the theorem that demons are bad and humans are good despite Buffy’s observation that it’s more complicated than that and that there are some creatures, like vampires, like Angel, of course, who aren’t evil at all.

When Riley learns that Willow has dated a werewolf—he wasn’t aware that she was the type of girl who would be into dangerous guys—Riley goes all manichean again. When he learns that what appears to be a werewolf has killed one of his Initiative men (it isn't, by the way, Oz) he really goes manichean, Buffy calls it bigoted, threatening a werewolf the Initiative has just caught and suspects of killing Willis, with death. He points his pistol at the werewolf threatening to kill it but just as he appears about to pull the trigger the werewolf morphs into Oz.

Riley begins to once again have second thoughts about his humans good, demons bad mantra. When Initiative scientists begin their experiments on Oz shocking him and turning him from human to wolf leaving the marks of their experimental torture on his body, a medical torture regime that must remind some of the experiments the Nazis did on their other “non-humans during World War II (Xander's fear bringing nazi's made flesh?), Riley urges them to stop. “I know him”, he says.

The personal connection between Riley the teaching assistant and Oz the student seems to make Riley rethink his humans good, demons evil catechism while the negative stimulation the Initiative is giving Oz perhaps makes him rethink his take on the Initiative particularly since Oz is no longer, as he says, a threat, a very Scooby way of seeing things. Riley tries to stop the torture of Oz but he can’t since the only person who can issue a cease order is, as the Initiative researcher tells Riley, the new Initiative commander Colonel McNamara, a man who is clearly the very epitome of the Initiative militaristic spit and polish, follow the leaders, and demons evil mentality.

After the torture stops and Oz is placed naked in one of the Initiative’s cells (an Oz for the female gaze?). Riley helps Oz escape from his cell. Before they can escape from the Initiative’s underground lair, however, Riley and Oz are captured. Oz is returned to his cell while Riley is put in the brig to await trial for treason, for working with, as Colonel McNamara puts it in typically Initiative manichean fashion, the Slayer and her band of anarchist freaks who are too backward for the real world. For McNamara, apparently, the Scoobies are only a little better than demons.

Learning from Tara, who Oz in werewolf form tried to attack, more about this later, the too backward for the real world Scoobies once again swing into action and once again Buffy and Xander, this time accompanied by Willow and this time with the help of Spike--it is Adam who is really the “person” behind the scenes pulling the strings--invade the Initiative layer. They capture McNamara. They force him to take them to Riley so they can free him once they learn his is in the brig awaiting trial for treason, and, though surrounded by Initiative soldier boys, manage to free Oz after Buffy threatens McNamara with a William Burroughs if he doesn’t lead them to Oz. No, not death by free prose boredom as Xander wittily and humourously asks, but death by shooting. Burroughs’s, as Buffy learned in English class though her Initiative classmates don’t seem to have been listening that day in class, killed his common law wife Joan Vollmer “accidentally” while drunk during a bar game of William Tell in Mexico City in 1951. What is it with the William Tell references this season? Didn’t we just have another in “Superstar”?

With Oz freed and the Scoobies on the elevator out of the Initiative McNamara still in tow as hostage, tells Riley that he is a dead man. “No sir”, Riley responds, “- I'm an anarchist”.

If we viewers needed a clearer picture of what the Initiative is up to, a question that has been on Scooby minds since they discovered who the Initiative was earlier in season four, or that humans are not always, as in Riley’s binary theorem, good, then the Initiative’s brutal and dispassionate all demons are evil clinical torture of Oz in “New Moon Rising” and their attitudes toward our Scoobies, provides us with a picture that is finally crystal clear. It is obvious now that the Initiative is very different from our Scoobies and that even the ends of the Initiative and the Scoobies are very different. The Initiative wants to either kill or modify demons undermining the balance between the worlds, while the Scoobies with their reactive strategies, may kill dangerous and threatening demons but not enough to undermine that balance. Adam, in a variation on the Initiative mentality, wants to cull enough demons and humans, so he can make himself the dictator of the known universe. With Adam moving his chess pieces around the board in preparation for battle we viewers are left to wonder what whether the tensions between the Scoobies and the Initiative complicate the battle between demons and humans.

Though the Adam, Initiative, Riley, Buffy, Willow, Tara and season four arcs and the intersections between them are important in “New Moon Rising”, it is two ghosts from Buffy past, Oz and Angel, which are at the heart of the episode.

Oz returns out of Willow’s past. He has spent the last several months travelling across Europe and finally to Tibet—did you notice his Buddhist prayer beads?—to study meditation techniques, meditation techniques, as he tells Willow in her dorm room, that, as Willow learns when Oz takes her outside for a look at the full moon in the sky, he is using to control the wolf, the anger, within.

Oz’s new found wolf control and his relationship with Willow, however, is, as Willow tells Buffy, “complicated”. Since “Hush” Willow has grown closer to Tara and has, as we have seen on several occasions, begun a relationship with Tara, a relationship expressed through glances, touching, and the sexual metaphor of magicks. These complications come to a boil when Oz thinks he smells Willow in the halls of one of the UC, Sunnydale campus buildings, but, when he turns in the direction of the odour it turns out to be Tara, a Tara, who he says, has Willow all over her. Eventually it dawns on Oz that despite what Xander said about Willow not having another boyfriend, that Willow does have someone in her life, Tara. Jealous with rage Oz transforms into the wolf in the middle of the day, chases Tara into a lecture hall, and is captured by the Initiative setting in motion the events I wrote about above.

In the final scenes of “New Moon Rising” Oz, in his spur of the moment way, tells Willow that he is leaving her and Sunnydale again pretty much now. In a scene that parallels the Willow and Oz parting scene at the end of “Wild at Heart” and the Willow and Oz fall in love in “Surprise”/“Innocence”, Oz goes once more out of Willow’s life. With Oz gone Willow goes to Tara’s dorm room to tell her that, as Tara tells her she understands that she has to be with the one she loves, that she is. Wonderful scene that made me extremely happy, tearfully happy.

The other 500 pound complication in the Buffy room is Angel. With Riley fully, at least for the moment, free of the Initiative, hiding from the Initiative in the ruins of Sunnydale High, and free, at least for the moment, of that Initiative humans good, demons evil bigotry, Buffy decides to tell Riley about Angel, the good vampire, though how much she tells him about Angel is uncertain at this point. Buffy and Riley seem once again to be reconciled but how much all of these complications will continue to play in their relationship is unclear. I suppose we will see how these complications play out in future episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

There are several new moons rising in “New Moon Rising”. Adam prepares to set in motion a war between the humans and the demons. The Initiative and the Scoobies have become enemies. Spike is secretly working with Adam. Willow and Tara become a couple and their secret is out if only to Oz and Buffy. Buffy, by the way, is thrown, as the script says, and becomes somewhat distant from the new Willow rising and keeps saying Will’s name like that even though she wants to be supportive best friend girl. It takes her what seems like a minute or two before she says that she is absolutely not freaked and that she finally comes around to the “new” Willow and becomes, once again, supportive best friend girl. Scoobies assembling or Scoobies disassembling?

“Whatever, you know, happens? I'll still be here. I mean, I'll still be your friend”. We don’t know everything about Tara yet, including why she intentionally undermined a spell to find evil in Sunnydale in “Goodbye Iowa”. What we do know about Tara in “New Moon Rising” is that she really cares for Willow and that she is really supportive of Willow even when she thinks she is going back to Oz. I like Tara. A lot.

The Continuing Saga of Giles's Unlocked Door. This week it is Oz and Spike who, unbeknownst to the Scoobies, make their way into Giles's flat while they are having one of their Scooby meetings. Does Giles not lock his door? Is the door lock broken? Who cares, it has become a very funny running gag in season four.

The Chorus. Wonderful episode. One of the things “New Moon Rising” does, among other things, is to continue to complicate Buffy’s conception of theodicy or evil. If Buffy began with a largely manichean conception of evil, a conception of evil I suppose one would expect to find among those in their teen years, Buffy’s conception of evil is no longer of the demons bad, humans good variety. That the Initiative has still not grown out of the binary stage of human ideological development is one of the differences between our Scoobies and the rather naïve and militaristically simple-minded Initiative.

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