don’t bring tomorrow to justify tonight

I haven’t forgot Buffy, don’t worry. But with the mid-season finale of Burn Notice and the season premiere of Mad Men and the final days of Kings and discovering old episodes of I Spy on Hulu, well, I had a lot more interesting TV to watch.

Whedon never misses an opportunity to indulge in fan service, so why not bend the fabric of reality to put Allyson Hannigan in a corset again? I shouldn’t complain, though, as this episode turns a minor villain – Anya – into a recurring character with interesting motivations. And aside from the usual first-act meandering, this is a really good episode! Every character does what they’d reasonably do; we have some fun chase scenes and vampire brawls; Faith barely shows up. Almost perfect.

Are You Fucking Kidding Me?

  • The evil lair where Anya petitions her demon master for her powers back is clearly some guy’s basement with a few Hot Topic throws. Clearly. You can see light coming through the ground-level window.
  • Nothing highlights how superb an actor Harry Groener is, and how poor of one Eliza Duskhu is, then putting them in a scene together (“this place is the kick”- ugh). To be fair, maybe Whedon’s deliberately writing Faith as dumb.
  • … y’know, other than that I’ve got nothing.

All Right, I’ll Admit, That Was Cool

  • I like Anya. She acts emotionally invested in her situation, rather than with the witty remove that Whedon tries (and fails) to inject in all his dialogue. I’m given to understand that she becomes a recurring character; if so, I approve.
  • “I swear, I’m just trying to find my necklace.” “Well, did you try looking in the sofa in Hell?” I chuckled.
  • After the sluggish first act, the presence of two Willows in Sunnydale proceeds at a reasonable clip. Evil Willow immediately begins consolidating her power, bullying vampires into submission and turning them into a goon squad. Meanwhile, Buffy and crew realize that their Willow isn’t a vampire after thirty seconds – which is good, because a 45-minute comedy of errors would have been appalling.
  • Willow acting as evil Willow. I think Hannigan’s a better actor than Whedon’s dialogue and coaching give her the opportunity to be. She delivers every line with the same perky cadence, punctuating them with a smile and some chin movement, regardless of their content. Here, though (and in “Earshot”), Hannigan portrays a wide range of emotions. The scene in the Bronze, where she must simultaneously keep up a vampiric facade, send as many bad guys outside as she can, allay Oz’s fears and still act tough was very entertaining.

Overall Grade: Lots of fun. A high point of the season.

And then, well. I remember this being the first Buffy episode I ever watched, not long after it originally aired. I formed my first low opinions of Whedon from this one. When it came up again in the queue, I hoped that time had exaggerated its flaws.

Nope. This episode starts with Buffy and Faith running into a demon who wants to sell them the Books of Ascension (why should they care? how does he have them? if the Mayor’s been planning this for over a century, why doesn’t the Mayor have them already?). Faith jacks the demon, steals the books for her new boss, and tricks Angel into standing still long enough for an undead wizard to yank his soul out (that easy, huh?). Angel and Faith go on a tear, screwing and bludgeoning their way across Sunnydale until they lure Buffy back to Angel’s mansion. He ties her up until Faith reveals the Mayor’s master plan, at which point – ah-ha! It was a trick all along! Also, Cordelia’s seducing Wesley.

Are You Fucking Kidding Me?
Deep breath. Here we go:

  • Why is Buffy interested in the Books of Ascension, which she hadn’t heard of until 10 seconds ago? The demon trying to sell them drops the Mayor’s name; does that constitute any sort of bona fides? If I showed up at the Pentagon tomorrow claiming to have Osama bin Laden’s address in a Hello Kitty diary, would that obligate the DoD to take me seriously?
  • I’m glad Wesley suggests beating the rather feeble demon up and stealing the books from him. But nobody considers that this might be a trap to lure the Slayer out? Then again, if it were a trap, it’d be a rather poor one. So I suppose Giles and Wesley’s ignorance gets saved by the demon’s stupidity.
  • If it’s that easy to separate Angel from his soul, why hasn’t anyone tried it before? The Mayor makes some throwaway reference to the effort and sacrifice of getting the wizard to show up, but we never see it cost him anything. And the actual ritual involves throwing some alchemical goop on Angel, then the wizard showing up and chanting for a few seconds.
  • The entire episode hinges on Buffy and Angel deciding, off-camera, to run a sting on Faith. When do they do that? Here’s how the sequence of events has to go: the Mayor summons the wizard and makes his request. The wizard, that same day, grabs Giles and tells him, “Hey, you owe me, so I’m telling you: the Mayor wants me to go corrupt a friend of yours.” Giles, having forgiven Angel for murdering his girlfriend and torturing him, tells Buffy, who was on her way to go ask Angel what Faith was doing visiting. Buffy and Giles hurry over to Angel’s mansion, telling him what’s about to go down. In record time, they come up with a plan to make it look like Faith has turned Angelus back. Giles calls the wizard back (which apparently takes him zero effort, compared to the Mayor) and briefs him on the plan. The wizard agrees. Faith shows up with a vial of goop, etc, the episode proceeds as recorded.

    That’s an awful fucking lot of stuff to happen off-camera.

  • Buffy’s rather tolerant of Angel sleeping with Faith. We never see that happen, of course, but we have to presume it did. Because if a ravenous amoral creature like Angelus got his hands on a nubile young sexpot like Faith, made out with her hot ‘n heavy, and then said, “Hold up, let’s not take things too fast here”? The ruse would fall apart in a second. So, Angel screws Faith without turning back into a demon (I never saw Season 2, but I presume the “true moment of happiness” that did him in was the consumnation of his love for Buffy, not the moment of climax) and Buffy forgives him.
  • Every line of dialogue Xander has in this episode makes me hate his character more. I did not think it possible.
  • And Willow’s isn’t much better.

All Right, I’ll Admit, That Was Cool

  • Angel relishing his released status as a vampire. Boreanaz is a much better actor than Whedon’s dialogue and coaching, oh wait, I’ve already given this note.
  • Angel punching Xander in the face. I know technically it’s part of the first bullet, but it deserves a call-out.

Overall Grade: Not the worst episode of the season, but it’s fighting “Anne” and “Dead Man’s Party” for that title.

Interesting. I figured this for a daring choice by Whedon, since I knew S3 originally aired in 1999. Then I saw that this episode aired, out of continuity, in September 1999. Probably pushed back several months in the wake of the Columbine shootings. Regardless, it takes an interesting concept – what would you do if you could read minds? – and plays it out to its natural conclusion. I respect Whedon for following the episode’s conceit logically, as well as giving us a few twists to keep us from guessing the real killer until the very end.

Are You Fucking Kidding Me?

  • Once again, the first act angst that foreshadows the episode’s supernatural bent is tacked on. Buffy feels left out of the gang’s social life? Why now? Why more so than usual? She’s ducked out of their events without hesitation before – and even when she and Angel were on the rocks.
  • Who tries to shoot themselves with a hunting rifle?

All Right, I’ll Admit, That Was Cool

  • The mind reading. Whedon was good enough not to skimp on the way teenagers actually think about sex, within the limits of PG-13 television (“I’d like to shove her up against a locker and …”). I liked the introduction of mind reading as a power that seemed useful at first but proved twisted.
  • The thoughts of her friends when she reveals her new power to them. Specifically Oz (“I am my thoughts. If they exist in her, Buffy contains everything that is me and she becomes me …”) and Cordelia, thinking what she was about to say just before she said it. Plus, though I haven’t been on board with the Wesley character yet, he did a fine job with comic timing here.
  • Willow’s questionnaire. Her interrogation of Jonathan was, again, one of the few times I’ve seen her act this season: inflecting words, using body language, etc. But I laughed out loud at every character in this sequence, from Xander interviewing Larry (“what secret? that I’m gay?”), to Oz interviewing Hogan (” ‘Moderate strain.’ Is that a good answer?”), to Cordelia interviewing a teacher (“were you planning on killing a bunch of people tomorrow? It’s for the yearbook”).
  • “You had sex with Giles?”
  • Whedon pulls off an excellent double reversal on who the real killer is. I spent so much time cringing in anticipation of the dark, pseudo-intellectual loner being the murderer that I didn’t mind when it turned out the pudgy, frustrated loser was. And then it wasn’t even him! I don’t always think much of Whedon’s plot twists, but they were well used here.
  • ” ‘Dingoes Ate My Baby play their instruments as if they have plump polish sausages taped to their fingers.’
    “Sorry, man.”
    “No, it’s fair.”
  • A few shots of students watching Buffy vault to the bell tower to disarm Jonathan help set up the shifting tide of popular opinion that culminates in “The Prom.” Nicely done.
  • “We can work out after school. You know, if you’re not too busy having sex with my mother!”

Overall Grade: Didn’t have the preachy impact it was aiming for, but fun in its supernatural aspects.

Once again, an idea taken to its logical conclusion: Buffy, as a high school senior, may one day be heading off to college. What does that mean for her duties as a Slayer? And the stakes get raised even higher when Buffy snags an artifact the Mayor needs for his ritual, but gets Willow kidnapped in the process.

Are You Fucking Kidding Me?

  • Snyder’s drug paranoia, thrown in as an afterthought. There’s one lame scene in the beginning where he rifles the lunch of two students we don’t know just to establish that he might have a reason to be at the school later.
  • “That won’t cut through steel.” “No, but it will cut through bone.” ARGH. Why not just finish the train of thought for anyone else who misses subtext? “Whose bone are you going to cut through?” “The guy I just shot. I’m going to sever his wrist and remove the cuffs that way.” “So then you can take the box to the Mayor?” ET FUCKING CETERA.
  • The sequence with Oz and Xander decoding Willow’s instructions (“twice-blessed sage or twice-blessed toad?”) serves no purpose in the story whatsoever. And it’s not funny.
  • For as much as I complain about 24 and its false dichotomies (“we need to light this school bus of nuns on fire, or Al-Qaeda will detonate a nuke! there’s no other way!”), it would not be fair to withhold the same judgment from this episode. The only two options are to surrender an evil artifact to the Mayor or see their friend get slaughtered? They haven’t infiltrated heavily guarded compounds against impossible odds before? None of them has the least bit of outside-the-box creativity?
  • Not much of a title.

All Right, I’ll Admit, That Was Cool

  • I didn’t think Northwestern was worth getting so excited over as a school, but U.S. News ranks it #12 in the country. Shows what I know!
  • “You killed him.” “What are you, the narrator?” That is fucking rich, considering the nature of Whedon’s dialogue. I howled.
  • Faith’s knife as a symbol of her lust for power, and her growing reservations about it. The knife appeared just often enough to be memorable, not so much as to hammer (or stab) the point home.
  • ” ‘Faith, we’re still your friends. We can help you. It’s not too late.’ ” “It’s way too late.” Again, one of the few times Hannigan’s called to really act, and she clears the fences. Unexpected and good.
  • Angel and Buffy fighting the vampires over and around the conference room.
  • I like the “great demonic power” in the box being a lot of spiders. And the terror was scripted very well – two spiders jumping out of the box, scurrying somewhere unknown, and everyone in the room freezing. Sometimes it’s the tiny threats that scare us the most.
  • “I married my Edna May in ought-three and I was with her right until the end …” Again, the Mayor carrying a scene effortlessly. And he introduces a logical complication – is the kind thing for an immortal to do to monopolize the best years of a young girl’s life?
  • Oz saying nothing in the argument over whether to rescue Willow or not, until he knocks the pot into the corner. Excellent example of commitment in a negotiation scenario; Thomas Schelling would be proud.
  • Buffy’s bargain with Wesley: if she stops the Ascension, she gets to go to college. Doesn’t work out, of course, but it represents a refreshing level of proactive effort. It shakes up the cycle of Encounter Threat, Lose Fight, Do Research, Win Rematch.

Overall Grade: I liked it very much.

# # #

Next update will be the last: “Prom,” “Graduation” (Parts 1 and 2) and overall thoughts on the season.


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