Saturday, August 17, 2013

Angel - City Of...

 Angel Season #1, Episode #1: City Of...


"The powers that be what?"

Angel's first season is a strange beast. It has elements of a cop procedural, but Angel is a vigilante working outside of the law. Which makes it more of a modern noir--only it's too silly to take the genre seriously. Beginning with season 2, the show radically changes and becomes a serialized plot with very few standalone or stand out episodes. Season 1 is nearly all standalone, with some episodes working far better than others.

The pilot does an adequate job of establishing this bizarro genre and distancing itself from Buffy. The opening scene sets a tone that will follow for most of the season--cheesy, rote genre pieces that are immediately undercut by self-conscious humor. We begin with dark, sexy shots of Los Angeles with a voiceover from Angel, opining on the sordid reasons people flock to the city. He ends, "My reason? It started with a girl."

Cut to Angel, drunk at a bar, incoherently describing this "hottie girl" to a random stranger. Eventually we discover that he's undercover, and that his life in LA revolves around prowling the streets for bad guys and giving them some old testament justice.

The scene ends with what has to be a deliberate callback to Buffy's first scene. If you remember, that show begins with a pretty blonde being menaced by pushy dude, only to reveal that she is a vampire. When Angel follows a vampire out of the bar and into an alley, he's menacing a pretty blonde, and there's no twist. This show will not be about subverting tropes. It's about our tortured protagonist, a dark avenger, and his quest for absolution. In this humble viewer's opinion, that is a theme that offers more fertile ground.

Angel allows itself to revel in the dark, brooding soul of its protagonist and its pessimistic take on Los Angeles, but swaddles that core with lightness and humor. Enter Doyle. Doyle is the sweet, sometimes crass, fast talking Irish half-demon who insinuates himself into Angel's life by breaking into his apartment and telling truths. Doyle was sent by the Powers That Be to help Angel get out of his rut and become a more effective fighter of evil. Apparently, the Powers aren't happy that Angel is just saving people and not having a lovely chat with them, because disconnecting himself from their struggles will make it difficult to resist the temptation to eat them or something. Doyle receives visions of people that Angel needs to help, and he must seek them out and get to know them in order to rescue them.

Unfortunately, Angel isn't good with people. On Buffy, he only ever interacted with one character in scenes that became more isolated from the overall plot over time. Having him interact with an ensemble cast necessitates poking fun at his romantic hero stature and revealing him for what he is: an out-of-touch, fun-hating recluse. When he goes to meet his first charge, Tina, his complete incompetence at even getting her attention is played for laughs. He acts so bizarre that she accuses him of being in cahoots with her crazy ex, Russell. But he uses the totally not creepy pick-up line, "You looked lonely, so I figure we have something in common," which, for plot purposes, gains her trust.

Tina takes Angel to a fancy Hollywood party where an agent tells him, not asks him, "You're an actor." He winds his way through the schmoozers and runs into none other that Cordelia, who moved to LA to become an actress. By her account, she's living life in the fast lane with a condo in Malibu, but in reality, she lives in a decrepit apartment and wears sad grey sweats.


After a close encounter with some cohorts of Russell's, Angel offers to let Tina crash with him. She's taken aback by his insistence that she not do anything to repay him, and that he isn't just trying to get in her pants. However, her tenuous trust of him breaks when she sees the slip of paper that Doyle gave to Angel with Tina's name and workplace. The idea that someone might be genuinely kind to her now seems too good to be true, and she escapes Angel's apartment only to run straight into Russell.

If you hoped that Tina may become a regular character on the show, too bad. Turns out Russell's a vampire, and Tina gets bit.

It seems that it's hard out there for a young, attractive woman in LA. The writers may take a pessimistic view of the city, but they picked the perfect setting for the show. Unlike Buffy, where demons represent the angst and tribulations of adolescence, on Angel they represent the shallowness and depravity of human nature. And what better place to explore "regular" seeming people who indulge their basest impulses for money, status, and power?

When Angel finds Tina's corpse, he remembers why he never wanted to get to know anyone in the first place. He's seen too much suffering to last many lifetimes and acts like a hermit to protect himself. But Doyle and the Powers That Be were right--because he had a personal connection with Tina, he's not about to skulk off and let her murder go unpunished. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the girlfriend ends up in the refrigerator on this show.

Russell gets a visit from a young toolish lawyer from a firm called Wolfram & Hart. In my opinion, Wolfram & Hart is the best invention of the entire Buffyverse, but I'll get into that later. This lawyer, Lindsey McDonald, assures Russell that he has gone above and beyond to cover up Tina's murder. It's clear that this firm is in the business of enabling demons and malcontents to wreak havoc on the city, and Russell quickly moves on from Tina to choose his next victim--Cordelia.

Cordelia, still languishing in sad sweats, is overjoyed at the invitation to visit Russell's mansion in hopes that he can help jumpstart her career. But this Sunnydale girl is not so easily fooled. When they go to his lavish and cavernous den, she says, "I finally get invited to a nice place with no mirrors…and lots of curtains…hey, you're a vampire!"

Luckily, Angel is already on his way to avenge Tina, and he and Russell get into a big fight on the nice marble floors. But Angel doesn't get to finish the job until the next day, when he tracks Russeell down at Wolfram & Hart's headquarters.

We get a flicker of the dynamic protagonist that Angel will become in his final exchange with Russell. Russell tells Angel that he should stop fighting in the streets and should instead insinuate himself into normal life. Russell pays his taxes, doesn't make a mess, and lives below the radar. "In return," he says, "I can do anything I want."

Angel asks Russell, "Can you fly?" And kicks him out of the window to his death. Then he waltzes outta there like a boss.

Cordelia, ever the entrepreneur, sees dollar signs in Angel's newfound mission. She proposes that they open up an agency to help people in trouble, with Doyle providing the visions and her working for a flat fee. And just like that, our team is born.

This is the mission statement of the show, at least in its first season. Actions have consequences, and Angel knows that better than anyone. He's as unwilling to let evildoers get away with their bad deeds as he is unwilling to let himself escape his past acts.

Buffy - The Freshman

Buffy Season #4, Episode #1: The Freshman

"The fact that you're fat makes you look fat. The sweater just makes you look purple."

Greetings! This week I finally got a new computer and bid farewell to my 2007 11-inch MacBook, which is still technically functional but can't run more than one program at a time, run any word processing software, or send e-mails.

In honor of my entry into this decade (and ability to actually review episodes on my computer,) I'm looking to redesign my blog. Unfortunately, I don't have any idea how to do that. If you or someone you know may be interested in helping me out, shoot me a message at rosewatchesbuffy@gmail.com.

Onto The Freshman, which signals the dawn of a new era. Some of the changes from the first three seasons are inevitable. Giles is no longer Watcher or Sunnydale High librarian, and the kids have moved onto college. And I have yet to see a single TV show that successfully makes the high school to college transition without sacrificing some quality.

But some of the changes occurred behind the scenes. Angel and Cordelia are both gone, and the latter never appears on the show again. And while the show finally displays in widescreen starting with Season 4, there's also a marked change in the sound design. To my ears, everything sounds flatter and there's little to no ambience. Large portions of episodes go without any music or outside noise. Buffy and Willow walk through the halls of UC Sunnydale, past many groups of animated students bustling about, but all you hear is their conversation on a sound stage. It's jarring.

Joss Whedon, never one to cower in face of a challenge, turns the foreignness of the new Buffy into the actual plot of the season premiere. And even though we love Joss for his intrepid spirit, he's largely unsuccessful in this episode.

Buffy had a hard time fitting in at Sunnydale High because she was too wrapped up in her Slayer duties to socialize. But college is a whole 'nother story. Nerdy introverts like Willow and Oz finally hit their stride, while the jocks and cheerleaders like Buffy are lost.

This shift in dynamic is evident as soon as they get to campus (filmed at UCLA) in time for orientation. Gone is the Willow with the two long braids and the fuzzy pink sweaters. She is enthusiastic about a flyer for a frat party with free jello shots for women, and offers to trade Buffy a "Take Back the Night" flyer to get one. Oof, Joss.

Buffy and Willow go to investigate the UC Sunnydale library, which dwarfs the piddling Sunnydale High library. There's no way that it could serve as Scooby headquarters what with its gargantuan size and the fact that other students seem to actually use it. So the epiphanous shots as Buffy and Willow enter it seem a bit irrelevant--we will never see it again--except to further distance this setting from the previous three seasons. You'll notice that Willow is mighty enthusiastic, and Buffy is freaked out.

Even when Willow tries to find good classes for stupid people to accommodate Buffy--in this case, a class in which you watch TV for credit--Buffy still manages to fail. She heads to the class and sees that the professor is a total douchebag. You can just tell because look at him.
He overhears Buffy asking another student if the class is full yet, and has an unholy meltdown. I mean professors can have egos but screaming, "You are sucking energy from everyone in this room!!! Get out!!!!" at a freshman on the first day seems a bit disproportionate.

The episode takes an unexpected turn for the better when Buffy accidentally knocks a stack of textbooks on top of a flunky, floppy-haired gentleman's head. This is only a positive in retrospect, as it's RILEY, who we do not yet know is the worst but will very quickly learn is really, truly, THE WORST.
Class number two is psych with Professor Walsh and hunky Riley, who turns out to be her TA. Walsh is one tough broad, and warns that her class is a lot of work. Will she be the no-nonsense Giles surrogate of the college years? And hey, where is Giles??

So far, most of the episode has involved Buffy meandering around campus looking flustered. This meandering continues on into the night, but she finds a fellow wanderer in hapless Eddie. He can't find his dorm, wears khakis, and keeps a copy of "Of Human Bondage" next to his bed as a security blanket. A potential friend? A love interest? Or a serial killer?
None of the above. No sooner does Buffy step away than Eddie gets jumped by a group of vampires, including this blonde HBIC.
These vampires appear to be former UC Sunnydale students who didn't make it to graduation. There's the long-haired stoner, the insecure female sidekick, and Sunday, the leader of the pack. Sunday is by far the best part of this episode and has all the right parts to be a Big Bad. She's menacing, she's witty, and when Buffy comes after her to seek vengeance for Eddie, she proves to be a worthy foe.

The vampires' MO is to kill hapless freshmen, steal all of their belongings, and leave a fake goodbye note from the student saying that college was too much and they couldn't handle it. They then use the items to deck out their frat house; there's a great joke about keeping a running tally of how many freshmen have Monet posters vs. Klimt posters.

After being beaten handily by Sunday, Buffy looks for guidance from Giles, who FYI did not appear for the first 23 minutes of this episode!!! Instead she finds an unrealistically hot woman in Giles's button-up shirt, and Giles himself in a Hugh Hefner robe.
Buffy accurately theorizes that a gang of vampires is ganging up on college freshman, and tells Giles that they need charts and strategies and stuff. Giles pretty much tells her that she's whack and is like, "What are you here for, can't you see I am busy fraternizing with an unrealistically hot woman?"

One wonders what it will take to pull Buffy out of this stupor. Visits to Giles and Joyce (who filled her bedroom with shipments from work) only make her feel like more of a loser for not immediately acclimating to college. When she goes back to her dorm room and finds that Sunday took all of her belongings and left a goodbye note from Buffy, she just mopes to The Bronze.

The Bronze! How we missed you! how we missed your music and oversized couches. And how we missed…Xander??
Xander injects some much-needed energy--or maybe just familiarity--to the episode. He regales Buffy with tales of his failed Kerouac road trip, which ended with engine failure at a strip club in Oxnard, and resulted in crashing in his parent's basement. Xander, bless him, reminds Buffy that she is infinitely better than Willow (although not in as many words) and that she shouldn't let a little ennui get her down. "You're Buffy!" he tells her. "You're my hero!"

Buffy gears up for another confrontation with Sunday and appears to be losing badly until her Class Protector umbrella is put in peril. This relic from happier high school days reminds her that she is Buffy and she is Xander's hero, and with a twirl of a stake and a classic zinger, she dusts Sunday.
The show takes a big gamble by eliminating everything familiar about the show and sending Buffy out to sea. Unfortunately, watching all of Buffy's friends act like a bunch of jags while she basically gets dumped on the entire episode is both unsettling and unrealistic. Painting with broad strokes to illustrate the alienation of youth is kind of this show's thing, but the characters have been through too much now to undergo a total reset. I do not buy for a second that Giles would just turn Buffy away, and sure enough, he comes running back at the end for forgiveness. I don't buy that Buffy, who ran off to live by herself for an entire summer and did just fine, would be thwarted by having to locate her classes at UC Sunnydale.

But even though Buffy will find her place in college after this episode, the Scoobies remain fractured. They lack a central location in Season 4 such as Sunnydale High in 1-3 or the magic shop in 5-6. Willow continues to thrive and outgrows her old friends. Xander is basically a hopeless schlub for most of this season, living at home and struggling to find a job. And Giles has nothing to do at all. It's a transition, and not a particularly pleasant one to watch.

Friday, May 31, 2013

A Note on Season 4

Several weeks ago, I watched the season 4 premiere, The Freshman.

Now, considering that my reviews range from stupidly long to obscenely long, you may be surprised to hear that I do write them in real time while watching the episode. I might pause for a hot second, or add an introspective paragraph or two. But for the most part I'm just winging it. Thus the typos.

Why, then, have I not yet posted my review of The Freshman?

Because the "review" that I came up with is 87 words long and includes such stellar insights as:

"Willow's new hair"

 "Library scene--Willow excited"

 "Buffy knows something's up because of Of Human Bondage"

"RILEY EW"

I had nothing to say. I could barely be scathing. I knew I'd have to go back and beef up my notes to at least turn them into complete thoughts and sentences, but so much time has passed that I no longer remember WTF any of them mean.

Season 4 is going to be rough, y'all.

While watching The Freshman, all I could think about was Cordelia Chase, and I wonder what Cordelia Chase would be doing if she enrolled at UC Sunnydale with the rest of these schmucks, and Cordelia Chase would never stand for any of these shenanigans. So I took a break and started watching Angel. Then I remembered the two shows ran parallel to one another with a few unfortunate crossovers. Then I decided that I should review Angel.

So that's what I'll be doing. Each entry will have a short(er) review of one Buffy episode and the corresponding Angel episode. I'll be using this viewing order (thanks josswhedon.blogspot.com!) and reserve the right to give loquacious, single-entry reviews to episodes that deserve it, such as the woefully underrated Beer Bad!!!

I realize I am already the slowest, worst blogger there ever was, but the prospect of having to review boring Buffy Season 4 episodes without the far superior Angel Season 1 episodes to pique my interest is too much to bear. So get ready for the Powers That Be, prophecy after prophecy, and most importantly...


GET READY FOR LILAH MORGAN.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Graduation Day Pt. 2

Season #3, Episode #22: Graduation Day Pt. 2
 
"My God. He's going to do the entire speech."

Another year, another season finale. I'll take some time to reflect on the season at the end of the recap, but I can't help but get all sappy right up front.

The first time I watched Buffy, I was sitting on my best friend's couch delighting in this newfangled thing called "Netflix streaming." I was immediately hooked and watched the rest of the series on Youtube in 10 minute installments. To evade Youtube's copyright policy, the uploader flipped each video, so I watched the mirror image of Buffy. Certainly not the ideal way to watch...anything at all, but it did the trick.

Youtube-watching Rose hated Faith but found Season 3 enthralling. DVD-watching Rose is bored by Faith and found the last third of Season 3 boring. After Bad Girls, the show forgets its ensemble cast, its setting, and its humor. Once you already know what's going to happen with the Ascension, there's little else to keep you around.

With that said, Graduation Pt. 2 thrilled me just like the first time, and actually improved on my recollection. We pick up right where we left off with Buffy and her bloody knife on the roof. The Mayor turns up just as she climbs down a fire escape and tells his lackeys to stop preparing for the Ascension and find Faith. It's the first time we see a break in his facade as he repeats to himself over and over, "She'll be all right." This scene takes place in one long tracking shot--the first of several in the episode. This finale is more cinematic than most episodes, right down to the music, which has shed all vestiges of Season 1 cheesiness. It is downright scary.


Willow tends to sweaty Angel and his wound, only something about her gentle touch makes Angel think she's Buffy. He kisses her hand and goes on about how he was wrong and he can never leave her, which is much funnier than it's meant to be.


When actual Buffy turns up at his bedside--Angel asks, just to be sure--things are far less humorous. She takes off her leather jacket, looks him in the eye, and says, "DRINK ME." When he refuses, she naturally punches him in the face over and over until he becomes his vampirey self and goes for the jugular.

I always remembered this plot invention that Buffy would have to offer up her own blood to save Angel as being really Twilight-esque and silly. But the scene plays much creepier than I remembered, what with the punching and jarring visual of her struggling underneath Angel, kicking a table into the fire, and then passing out, all while he continues feeding. Buffy may love its teen romances, but it never shies away from portraying how abusive and unhealthy they can be.


Of course, when Angel comes to his senses, he rushes Buffy to the hospital. In one long tracking shot, we follow Angel as he entreaties the doctor to save Buffy and runs to the phone, and then into Faith's hospital room, where the Mayor is watching over her. The doctor tells him that it's unlikely she will ever regain consciousness. When he overhears the nurse talking about another young girl with massive blood loss, he puts two and two together and goes over to Buffy's room to try to suffocate her. All in one tracking shot! It's striking.



Luckily, Angel turns up in the nick of time to pull the Mayor away. But the trouble doesn't end there. He's come undone at the seams and is more excited than ever about eating Buffy at graduation. What's more, when the Scoobies turn up, they're none too pleased with Angel that he drank Buffy's blood. If we didn't already have thousands of other reasons why Angel can't stay in Sunnydale, here's one more.

Buffy has a feverish hospital dream that takes place in Faith's apartment. First of all, a precious, adorable kitten jumps on the bed and is soooo cute!
 

Faith speaks in riddles about Little Miss Muffet and 7-3-0. They have a dream dialogue that makes hazy sense--things about scars fading, and a guiding higher power. Faith tells Buffy that even "he" has human weakness, referring to the Mayor. The many boxes in the apartment belong to Buffy, according to Faith. And if she can't take all of it, she should just take what she needs. This dream brings Buffy back to consciousness, but not Faith.


Buffy includes many dream sequences, and there are no hard-and-fast rules about what they mean. Sometimes, a character can actually appear in another's dream, a la Buffy and Angel in Amends. Sometimes, dreams are premonitions; sometimes they're just dreams. There's no indication one way or another whether or not Buffy and Faith are truly meeting in the subconscious, but considering that Buffy just put Faith in a coma, it seems strange that she would be so helpful.

Without engaging in a full-on dream analysis, I will speculate. One MIGHT say that this dream isn't just giving Buffy space to figure out how to defeat the Mayor and also dropping hints about stuff from Season 5. One MIGHT look at all of the boxes of belongings in Faith home, and Faith's gesture that Buffy can take what she needs and leave the rest behind, as an invitation for Buffy to absorb the parts of the shadow slayer that will help and leave the baggage. Buffy tried to kill a human, but she doesn't have to end up like Faith. She's not going to be the same, but she's going to wake up.

But anyway! Buffy finds the rest of the Scoobies and tells them she is ready for war. The gang heads back to the library to discuss Buffy's plan to thwart the Ascension. Cleverly, the scene begins in the middle of the conversation, so the details of Buffy's plan are a mystery to the audience. All we can tell is that the Scoobies find it totally crazy (though not as crazy as Oz's plan to attack the Mayor with hummus), and that it hinges on Xander, which seems...impractical.


Next we get a plan execution montage! Not only do we watch the Scoobies fretting and bustling about, but we also see the Mayor giving his vampire army their marching orders. Giles discovers some loophole in the Ascension that will allow for Angel to fight outside during the daytime. The Mayor directs the vampires not to swear. Xander and Willow go to talk with Harmony and Percy in private. But what about???


[God bless America?]

We pause the war games for a personal moment between Wesley and Cordelia. Touchingly, Wesley came back to Sunnydale despite Buffy quitting the Council because he just wants to help. He tells Cordelia that he's heading back to England unless there's something back in Sunnydale worth staying for. The music swells, they kiss, and...it's terrible. They try again--still terrible. "Good luck in England!" Cordelia tells him.


Theirs is not the only romance ending in this episode. Angel tells Buffy that if they beat the Ascension, he's just going to leave without saying goodbye. It'll just be too hard once he sees those baby blues to commit to leaving. He couldn't even stand the thought of leaving when he mistook Willow for Buffy, after all.

Finally, it's graduation! The moment we've all dreaded. The Mayor goes up to the podium to give the speech he's spent 100 years writing and which he plans to read in its entirety. At the conclusion, the moon eclipses the sun, the Mayor writhes in pain, and a giant snake-like dinosaur emerges from his body. Not too dissimilar from some graduations I've attended btw.


The students of Sunnydale High stand up in terror, but then, in what is certainly the coolest moment of the episode, and possibly the season, they all rip off their graduation robes to reveal an assortment of weapons. Xander acts as their army commander using residual knowledge from Halloween. Reinforcements in the form of Angel, Wesley, and some assorted randos turn up to fend off the vampire army.


And touching though it is to see the seniors of Sunnydale High finally stand with Buffy--a continuation of their thanks to her in The Prom--there's still a body count. Larry the jock gets his neck snapped, and Harmony falls prey to a vampire. Worst/best of all, the Mayor eats Principal Snyder, who just found all of this Ascension business out of order.

But the grand finale of Buffy's plan necessitates that she be alone with the Mayor. In her dream, Faith told her to go after his human weakness--his fatherly love. She shows him the knife that he gave Faith, which Buffy used to stab her. When he chases her into the library, he meets a mountain of dynamite. "Well gosh," he says, before being blown up by Giles.



 The library :(


The Ascension is over and Sunnydale is safe, but the library is gone. The library! The inner sanctum! They blew it into pieces. It's a bold way to signal the end of an era, but definitely too bold considering the drastic decrease in quality once we get to Season 4. Might've wanted to keep that library around, that's all I'm saying.

Buffy wanders around in the wreckage, her diploma in hand. And despite the fact that Angel said he wasn't going to say goodbye, he appears in the distance, gives her a meaningful look, and then walks away through the fog.


Back to my babbling about the overall series. If the back half of Season 3 didn't hold up, the Buffy/Angel arc hit me much harder than I ever would have thought the second time around. Is it because I've now watched Angel and come to love the brooding, shirtless yoga loving Liam almost as much as I love Buffy? Partly. But his characterization on Buffy--sketchy though it may be--stands on its own. I still believe the Angelus arc in Season 2 is the best thing on the show, period.

Back in Season 2, Angelus was an omnipresent threat, even when he didn't appear in an episode. The writers were able to create a sense of menace while still focusing their energies on the core of the show: the Scoobies. Season 3 devotes too much of its energy trying with all this Faith/Mayor stuff at the exclusion of pretty much everything else. (There are 5 Angelus-centric episodes, and 8 Faith-centric episodes.) The only thing that happens with any of the other characters is that Oz and Willow finally get it on, and Buffy and Angel have the same fight over and over. After this season, Buffy is fairly separate from the rest of the group, and the characters only grow more isolated from one another.

But Graduation Day Pt. 2 ends with one final scene of togetherness, made all the more bittersweet by the fact that it is Cordelia's last episode. Buffy, Xander, Cordelia, Willow, and Oz stand in the shadow of the newly blown-up Sunnydale High. Oz asks them to take a moment to reflect on the fact that they survived. Not the battle with the Mayor--they survived high school. Not an easy feat at any school, let alone one located on the Hellmouth. They pause, and then walk away, exhausted and unimpressed. An irreverent end of an era.


In lieu of a favorite moment, I'll take this space to put in another plug for Angel. If you haven't given it a shot, reconsider! It's where Buffy characters go to get real character arcs!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Graduation Day Pt. 1

Season #3, Episode #21: Graduation Day Pt. 1
"Looking back at everything that's happened, maybe I should have sent you to a different school."

This is gonna be a short one. There's just not a lot to say about most part 1s. And for an episode in which Willow and Oz get it on for the first time, Angel takes an arrow through the heart, and Faith plummets to her death, Graduation Day Pt. 1 is pretty blah.

The episode begins on the last day of school at Sunnydale High during yearbook signing. Old enemies come together to say HAGS, I wish I had gotten to know you better, let's hang out this summer! Willow and Harmony say a fond farewell. Percy thanks Willow for turning him into a scholar. Bittersweet, because once they graduate they'll never see each other again. And also because Willow knows something the rest don't--they are probably all going to get eaten in a few days.


This premature nostalgia is lost on Buffy and Xander, who are otherwise preoccupied. The Ascension is nigh, and it appears it will take place at the actual graduation ceremony, where the Mayor will speak.

Faith shows up at the home of an old professor who is like Giles 20 years from now. She's on a mission from the Mayor to kill him, as he is a "loose end." Faith is creepy and nonchalant--she does "evil" much more convincingly than "troubled."


But the show hasn't given up on fleshing out that backstory! Earlier in the episode, the Mayor congratulated Faith on her murder of the professor by telling her that her father would have been proud. Really? Is her father Charles Manson and nobody told me?

Later, Faith volunteers to kill or maim anybody the Mayor needs cos she just can't sleep. The Mayor calls her a "firecracker" which, wouldn't you know it, is what her mother used to call her! If only her mother had just hugged her more, she could've used that nervous energy to become a computer programmer.

Part of what makes the Mayor as a parental figure so creepy is that he treats Faith like a tiny child. I'm not sure if this is meant to be comical, or if he's meant to be like the father she never had. Giles treats Buffy like an adult; the Mayor makes Faith dress up in a horrible pink dress, too girly even for Willow. He want her to wear it to the Ascension, which he likens to her debutante ball. "Nobody knows what you are," he says to her.


But the dress is really awful tho.

In class, Anya begs Xander to go out with her. The idea of anyone begging Xander to go out with him is comical in and of itself, but it's Anya's desperate attempt to understand this mortal coil that will be played for laughs from here on out. She suggests, "We could watch sports of some kind. Men like sports! I'm sure of it!" Xander tells Anya that if he survives the Ascension, they can go on a date. Shades of Season 5--but I'm getting ahead of myself!


For some reason I don't completely understand, Giles and Wesley are fencing in the library, talkin' about the Ascension. They're interrupted by Anya, who announces that she has witnessed an Ascension, and lived to tell the tale! She explains that all the demons that walk the earth are tainted and human-like. So when the Mayor becomes a pure demon, he'll be like one of those demons only real big? I think?


Right then Mayor drops by the library--it's alarming how scary his presence in this space can be. This is the Scoobies inner sanctum, and while it would be easy for any enemy to just drop in, it's like they just have an understanding that the library is off limits! It's probably in the Geneva Convention.


The Mayor gloats about the Ascension, and reads an excerpt from their research about all of the races of the earth coming together in terror during the Ascension. His response? "Aww, that's kinda sweet! Different races, coming together!"

Now that Buffy knows the Mayor is gonna be really huge, she's freaked out. She packs a bag for Joyce and tells her to get out of town because she can't fight the Mayor while worrying about Joyce. She's said similar things to Angel in the past to no avail. The idea of having a support system nearby is foreign to Buffy, who feels it is her responsibility to go it alone.

Now that Willow knows the Mayor is gonna be really huge, she's similarly freaked out. She tries to confide in Oz, who continues to be the "ironic detachment guy" in the face of this crisis. But they'll all be dead soon! And their graduation robes are so ugly! Willow wishes Oz would panic with her; he basically jumps her bones. "What are you doing?" Willow asks. "Panicking," Oz responds. I gotta say, my opinion of Oz has improved on this rewatch.


Angel turns up at the old professor's apartment to help Buffy carry a box? I think it's one of those things where he said they broke up and he never wanted to see her again, but then he keeps showing up unexpectedly for no reason, and he calls her like, "I still love you," and Buffy's like, "This is exhausting!" They fight in the street like an old divorced couple but their bickering is cut short when Angel gets an arrow thru the chest. It came from Faith, who meant to miss the heart. The arrow is poisoned! When will Katniss.


Wesley and Giles discover that the old professor studied volcanoes and found a big dead dinosaur in the ocean. The Mayor wants to hide this information because it means that when he turns into that dinosaur thing after the Ascension, he will no longer be invincible. Yeah!

Willow and Oz aren't the only ones to share a romantic moment. Anya turns up in the dead of night to ask Xander to come away with her, because the thought that something might happen to him makes her feel "bad inside." Despite his general uselessness, Xander proves his worth to the Scoobies--he's not going to leave! He's going to stick with them til the very end!


Wesley goes to the Council to ask if they'll help cure Angel, who is currently really poisoned and sweaty. And I mean, no offense Buffy, this does seem like kind of a ridic request. When they say no, poor Buffy has to shout things like, "I'm talking about watching my lover die!" She can't understand why the Watcher's council won't do anything to cure this vampire, and so she defiantly quits the council. Just like that! Why didn't you think of this ages ago, Buffy? Remember how they fired Giles??


After reading some books in chem lab, Oz discovers the cure for what ails Angel; unfortunately, this cure means draining the blood of a Slayer. A few weeks ago, Buffy might have expressed some moral qualms about what she'd have to do to get such blood, but today? No matter. She'll kill Faith. No prob!

Finally, us fans are going to get what I assume many of us always wanted--a battle royale between Buffy and Faith. This comes complete with a training montage interspersed with some shots of sweaty Angel.


Buffy turns up at Faith's apartment dressed in leather pants and a black top. Faith says, "Well look at you! All dressed up in big sister's clothes." And she does mean literally.


They beat the crap out of each other; it's pretty cool. Honestly, I miss the fight scenes. It's so vintage Buffy. All the acrobatic flips! And they are not even trying with the stunt doubles!

  

Poetically, Buffy stabs Faith right in the gut with the knife the Mayor gave her in Choices. Faith leaps dramatically off the roof to avoid her blood going to cure Angel. Her final words to Buffy? "You should have been there, B. Quite a ride."


Now, pause.

When I first watched this episode, I have to say I was almost glad to see Buffy stab Faith. For too many episodes Faith has just been wandering around causing all kinds of problems and being insufferable, and it's about time somebody did something about it, am I right?? I just wanted her off the show.

But having seen the rest of the series, as well as Angel, this scene has lost much of its impact. Buffy doesn't turn grey at this moment like I originally hoped she would. There's been no build-up to her decision that she doesn't mind killing a human. There's no discussion as to whether or not this will change her like it changed Faith. Angel doesn't pretend to be Angelus and make out with her to extract info from hostage Willow or anything. In fact, I don't think anybody ever mentions this again until Season 6. It's a drastic turn for Buffy that's quickly forgotten, which also has the effect of diminishing Faith's arc. Why did Faith lose it, and not Buffy?

As I'm sure we all know, Faith doesn't actually die, which is a shame, in a way. Not because I'm not a fan--by the time she shows up on Angel, I like her a lot more. But because this would have forced Buffy to contemplate her dark side. She could absorb Faith, who has always been her shadow. Considering the path she takes in later seasons, this would have benefited her characterization in my opinion. Faith surviving is a copout.

Favorite moment: Giles stabs the Mayor with a fencing...sword? I don't remember why but it's Giles stabbing the Mayor with a sword.