Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Buffy: 3.13 ‘The Zeppo’

Some of Christophe Beck’s great score for this ep. The piece is entitled ‘Dead Guys with Bombs’.

Writer: Dan Vebber
Director: James Whitmore Jr

What's the sitch?

The evil and all-powerful Sisterhood of the Jhe is on its way to Sunnydale to unleash powerful magics in order to open the Hellmouth and send the world in to a seemingly unstoppable apocalypse. Giles is truly scared, while Buffy and Angel are convinced they are about to spend their last night on Earth. Meanwhile Xander is having a crisis of confidence and identity. Cordy, still enjoying torturing him due to his cheating on her with Willow, has pointed out how utterly useless he is to the Scoobies; he’s the one who keeps on having to be saved; the one with no power or knowledge. He’s basically the useless fifth wheel who goes and gets the donuts when the rest are researching and preparing for battle. He’s “The Zeppo” Cordy points out, referring to Herbert “Zeppo” Marx, the oft overlooked Marx Brother who usually played the straight man to his more famous brothers. Determined not to be that guy, Xander borrows his Uncle Rory’s flashy car in order to be “car guy.” But all too quickly he gets involved in his own crazy adventure which sees the Xan man getting embroiled with the local psycho bully, Jack, and his plans to raise from the dead his group of thug buddies, make a bomb, and go blow up the school. On the way through this rollercoaster night, Xander saves Faith from a demon attack…and then goes and loses his virginity to her in her motel room before being rather unceremoniously thrown out by the nonchalant slayer straight after she's had her way with him. Shell-shocked by his brief yet intense time with Faith, Xander must still man up and go on and stop Jack and his buddies from blowing up the school. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the school building (and totally unaware of the explosive zombie plot going on in the basement) Buffy, Angel, and Giles are in an apocalyptic battle to the death as the Hellmouth opens…

What's the sitch beneath the sitch?

No real big underlying metaphor here as this is basically a Xander comedy episode which also looks at his role in the gang and in the show and gives him a chance to shine. He’s not “The Zeppo”, he’s not “car guy,” he’s a whole lot more. Basically, Xander is us. He’s just a normal everyday guy, kinda geeky and not especially talented or gifted at anything…at least not until he discovers carpentry. But what he certainly is is brave, perceptive, and loyal. Xander is the heart of the group. He’s the glue that keeps things together. He’s the guy who sees what's really going on with people when they are far too busy with the big epic apocalypse stuff, and then helps them deal.

Who's giving us the wiggins this week?

Psycho Jack and his zombie buddies, and The Sisterhood of the Jhe (kinda).

Why it rocks

Nicholas Brendon. It’s a Xander comedy episode. Which means Nicky Brendon gets to go full-on funny. And he is so, so good at that. This is simply one of the funniest episodes in all of Buffy…and that’s saying something.

The script. Dan Vebber’s hilarious and beautifully constructed script has Buffy the Vampire Slayer doing Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. In the same way that Stoppard’s comic play has its two titular characters, being two minor characters from Hamlet, take centre stage while the epic events of Shakespeare’s play form the backdrop, so the same happens here. Xander’s adventure is the 'A' story, while Buffy and co. battling the apocalypse with all the destruction, blood, fights and high emotion that entails (especially between Buffy and Angel) is reduced to being just a sub-plot. It all comes together wonderfully at the end as Xander battles alone to stop crazy Jack and defuse the bomb in the school basement while at the same time Buffy and co upstairs are fighting for their lives to save the world from the creatures released from the now opened Hellmouth.

Xander and ‘Katie’

Xander and Faith – especially the look on Xander’s face as he’s pushed out of her motel room door after the event.

The showdown. The brilliantly edited/cross-cut end sequence, which is played out like a horror version of a French farce…culminating in psycho Jack’s sudden and unexpected demise in the jaws of a wolfed out Oz.

Why it sucks

The Hellmouth monsters still look rubbish.

Oz’s werewolf costume also still looks rubbish.

Jack says that he couldn't raise his dead friends earlier because he "had to wait 8 months for the stars to align," but he died three weeks ago and his "grandpappy" raised him the same night.

It's Buftastic

Xander, feeling out of his depth in trying to stop Jack, goes to find Buffy to ask for her help…only to walk in on her and Angel in the midst of a tearful and hilariously overwrought moment as they prepare for their demise in the face of the imminent apocalypse and declaring their love for each other. Seeing he’s picked a bad moment, Xander apologises and quickly retreats, leaving the pair to their apocalyptic melodrama.

Dialogue to die for

Xander: “What do I have?”
Oz: “An exciting new obsession. Which I feel makes you very special.”
Xander: “Now with the mocking.”

Jack: "You wanna be startin' something?"
Xander: "What? Starting something? Like that Michael Jackson song, right? That was a lot of fun, huh? 'Too high to get over, yeah, yeah.' Remember that fun song?"

Xander: "Is it hard to play guitar?"
Oz: "Not the way I play it."

Xander (referring to his car): "It's my thing."
Willow: "Your thing?"
Xander: "My thing!"
Buffy: "Is this a penis metaphor?"

Buffy: “And, you know, with the pain and the death, maybe you shouldn't be leaping into the fray like that. Maybe you should be... fray-adjacent.”

Xander: “Yeah, great knife. Although I think it may technically be a sword.”
Jack: “She's called Katie.”
Xander: “You gave it a girl's name. How very serial killer of you.”

Jack: “I like you.”
Xander: “Yay?”

And another thing

As in the previous episode ‘Helpless’ the main bad guy here was played by a regular cast member from the defunct 1996 vampire series Kindred: The Embraced. Coincidence or not?

How many stakes?

Funny Xander slays all before him. 4.5 (out of 5)

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Buffy: 3.12 ‘Helpless’

Short promo for this episode

Writer: David Fury
Director: James A. Contner

What's the sitch?

It’s Buffy’s birthday again. And that means things aren’t gonna go well. Our girl is turning 18 and she is hoping for her dad to come and take her to see the ice show as he promised. Unfortunately he cries of with work commitments leaving a dejected Buffy to drop some not-so-subtle hints to Giles for him to take her instead. But Giles ignores these hints as he has other far heavier things on his mind. You see Buffy has slowly, over a few days, been getting gradually weaker. And on the day of her 18th birthday she loses all of her slayer powers, reducing her to being a normal girl. And it is Giles who is responsible. He has secretly been hypnotising and drugging her to temporarily take her power away in order for her to undergo an arcane and cruel right of passage where she’ll be locked in a house with a psychotic vampire and expected to defeat him, while temporarily lacking her slayer ability. Unfortunately the said psycho vamp called Zackary Kralik goes and escapes before the test can be held. Feeling intensely guilty at what he’s done to her, Giles admits his deceit to a devastated Buffy who feels seriously betrayed by Giles, her real father figure. To make matters even worse, Kralik, a pre-vamped nutter with a mother fixation, goes and kidnaps Joyce and takes her back to the house where the test was to be held, leaving behind a message for the now seemingly helpless slayer to come save her mom if she can. Buffy does indeed save Joyce and she also slays Kralik using her natural guile and smarts but not before undergoing one heck of a beating at the insane vamp’s hands. Giles, having told Buffy about the test, has nullified it and the visiting Chief Watcher and Giles’s boss, Quentin Travers, fires Giles as punishment.

What's the sitch beneath the sitch?

As in the previous episode, ‘Gingerbread’, parents - specifically fathers this time – get a bashing from Joss and co. Buffy’s father lets her down again and is basically out of her life entirely now, leaving Giles to be her one true father figure…which makes Giles’ betrayal of Buffy by drugging her and putting her in needless danger all the more awful and hard for her to bare. Thankfully though, Giles hates what he’s done and puts a stop to it. This of course puts him at odds with the Watcher’s Council. As Travers points out, Giles has developed a father’s love for Buffy and will protect her to the very best of his ability – even if it means going against his own calling. This is what leads to his being fired.

Who's giving us the wiggins this week?

Psycho vamp Zackary Kralik, Giles (kinda), a couple of watchers who get vamped, and top watcher dude Quentin Travers.

Why it rocks

Father figure. The theme of this episode - fathers and their relationships with their children - is strong and meaningful and the focus on Buffy and Giles and their father/daughter relationship vs. their Watcher/Slayer one is great.

Fairytales again. Yep, two episodes in a row and Buffy remains in fairytale land. This time it is Little Red Riding Hood. Kralik is the wolf pursuing Buffy who is even wearing a bright red hooded cloak. Kralik then uses that same cloak to fool Joyce in to thinking he is Buffy. My, what big teeth you have, Mr Kralik. And speaking of…

Zackary Kralik. He is one creepy nasty vampire. Jeff Kober, a big and intimidating presence who towers over little SMG, plays him as a smart yet demented Hannibal Lecter type complete with his own small Lector-like cell and psycho restraints.

Tony and Sarah. Tony Head and Sarah Michelle Gellar are simply wonderful here. The parental bond between Buffy and Giles is so strong that the heartrending betrayal Buffy feels when she finds out what Giles has done will surely get to you. Just watch her face as Giles admits what he’s done to her. Nobody does emotional pain quite like SMG. And at the end Buffy’s allowing of Giles to silently bathe her wounds in an accepted act of contrition is so very tender and touching.

Smart Buffy. She defeats Kralik using intelligence and trickery rather than brute force proving that she is indeed far more than just a strong girl who can beat people up real good.

Harris Yulin. The veteran character actor, a familiar face to many, is great as head watcher Quentin Travers. He does a flawless British accent and is cool and condescending to all around him, and especially to Buffy, who, by episodes end, is taking no crap from any officious watcher type. His patronising congratulations to the beaten, blooded, traumatised girl being met with a steely “Bite me!” Heh! Go Buffster.

Buffy says, “Bite me!” See above for more on her deliciously delivered retort to Travers.

Why it sucks

Why the heck would the Watcher’s Council put their slayer through such a dangerous test where the likelihood is she’ll be killed? It’s kinda stupid…but then a lot of traditions tend to be stupid and no longer relevant to modern life.

Kralik is a vampire and yet still requires regular pills to help ease his violent headaches. Um, when you’re a vamp I thought you were supposed to heal and not to suffer from physical ailments? But then I suppose it could be to do with his insanity or maybe even be psychosomatic. After all Drusilla retained her psychic abilities after being vamped and also remained insane, so who knows?

Buffy running for her life and pleading for help from anyone nearby is messed up and rather too similar for my tastes to SMG’s role in the shite horror film I Know What You Did Last Summer which came out just over a year before this episode originally aired. Maybe it was a homage or something.

Faith is once again MIA :(

It's Buftastic

“Bite me!” The source of many a future Buffy related T-shirt and poster.

Dialogue to die for

Buffy: "Actually I do have a date. Older man. Very handsome. Likes it when I call him Daddy."
Angel: "Your father... It is your father, right?"

Buffy: "OK. So how do you know if ones aura is dirty? Does somebody come by with a finger and write 'Wash Me' on it?"

Buffy: “I dunno. I think it might be time to put a moratorium on parties in my honour. They tend to go badly. Monsters crash. People die.”

Quentin: “Congratulations again.”
Buffy: “Bite me.”

Buffy: “You know, nothing's really gonna change. The important thing is that I kept up my special birthday tradition of gut-wrenching misery and horror.”

And another thing

This is the only time in Buffy that holy water is used to kill a vampire.
As a child Willow once threw up on Woodstock, backstage at "Snoopy on Ice."

Harris Yulin who plays Quentin Travers is a venerable character actor who has appeared in many stage productions, films and television programmes in a career spanning almost fifty years. Some of his best known film roles are in Scarface, Ghostbusters 2, Clear and Present Danger, The Hurricane and Training Day. On TV, as well as Buffy he’s appeared in numerous shows including Kojack, Wonder Woman, Deep Space Nine, The X-Files and 24.

Jeff Kober who played Zackary Kralik also played a recurring vampire role in the short lived 1996 TV series Kindred: The Embraced.

Dominic Keating who played one of the watcher heavies looking after Kralik went on to play Malcolm Reed in Star Trek: Enterprise.

How many stakes?

Bad dads. 4 (out of 5)

Jackboots on Whitehall: Plastic Nazis Just Aren't Funny

The trailer makes this look better than it is.

Okay, so I’d heard some good things about this British World War 2 puppet movie.

Sadly they were almost all lies.

Oh dear…

Jackboots on Whitehall is a low budget British 'satire' about the fight-back after a successful Nazi invasion of Great Britain in 1940. The movie is filmed in Panzervision (just one of many such ‘hilarious’ wordplays to follow) and features barely articulated dolls of the Action Man and Barbie style filmed on miniature sets. Bizarrely this film boasts a top-notch voice cast featuring Ewan McGregor, Alan Cumming, Dominic West, Timothy Spall, Tom Wilkinson, Rosamund Pike, Steven Merchant, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Richard Griffiths and Richard O’Brien amongst others. And how the hell did THAT happen?

The basic plot sees big-handed foundling farmboy Chris (McGregor) set off for London with a rag tag bunch of Kent yokels to save Winston Churchill (Spall) from a Nazi force which has just tunnelled its way up in to London. Saving the PM in the nick of time, Chris, his hoped-for girlfriend Daisy (Pike) along with brash and gung-ho American pilot Fisk (West), brave Rupee (Bhaskar) and his bunch of Indian soldiers (don’t ask) make a dash for Scotland for a last stand at Hadrian’s Wall. In this universe Scotland is a ghostly land of unknown terrors where people fear to go – even Nazis – and is home to a mythical and bloodthirsty army of warriors. Arriving in Scotland, the small band prepare a defence at Hadrian’s Wall, while Chris is sent off in to the misty wilderness to find the mythical Scots army to try and get their help in defeating the coming Nazis. Can Chris find and convince the bloodthirsty Scots to help in time to save Churchill and his rag tag army at Hadrian’s Wall? Will Chris find out the truth about his origins and why he has such big hands? Will he get to be with his true love Daisy over the opposition of her bigoted vicar father? Will I laugh more than twice when watching this silly, amateurish mess? That would be yes, yes, yes and no.

Look, I can cope with the crappy doll design and the cheap production values - it adds a certain ‘made in your bedroom’ charm to it all. Kinda like the old Adam and Joe show. The voice cast too is bizarrely impressive. But the two big problems here are: 1) the script is shit, and 2) the directors (Edward and Rory McHenry who are also the writers) clearly have no real idea what they are doing. The film feels like a mishmash of daft ideas that were put together as they were going along – like a couple of young kids just arsing around with their toys and a camera over many a weekend. Unlike the vastly superior Team America (an obvious inspiration) the satire here is not in anyway sharp, focussed or meaningful. So without any decent satire what we get left with is loads of silly wordplay and unfunny homages to/spoofs of movies like The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Zulu, Independence Day and Braveheart with pot shots at Mel Gibson about fifteen years out of date (there are much better ones to be had nowadays). Plus we get plenty of witless and deeply unfunny playground stereotypes (the Nazi’s arrive in London and the first thing they do is reorganise the London Underground to make it more efficient; King George protests to the Germans that he’s actually one of them; the Frenchman shags every woman in sight). There’s also loads of swearing and plenty of over the top violence on show, which, give ‘em their dues, are the two things that work best in the film. They constituted the only two moments I actually remember laughing while watching it. Sad but true.

Basically Jackboots on Whitehall is a poorly made and messy melding of the likes of Team America, Dad’s Army, Alo Alo, Carry On films, and those godawful Date Movie/Meet the Spartans type spoofs. Although, to be fair, it never ever gets as bad as those vile abortions as the sheer childish amateurish enthusiasm of the writers/directors does come through, providing a certain shoddy charm to it all. Oh, and it also has the sight of Hitler in a dress – Queen Elizabeth the First’s dress no less. Not funny, but odd enough to make a small mark on my brain. But the following two burning questions still remain to be answered: 1) how the hell did this ever get funding, and 2) how on earth did they ever get the voice cast that they got? Was there a major drought of acting work in Britain that week?
(1.5/out of 5)

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Buffy: 3.11 ‘Gingerbread’

Cordelia trying to wake up Giles in a typically Cordelia manner.

Writer: Jane Espenson, Thania St John
Director: James Whitmore Jr

What's the sitch?

While out on patrol Buffy is surprised by an impromptu visit from her mom who then goes and stumbles across the bodies of two little children, a boy and girl aged about eight, apparently murdered by witches in a ritualistic manner. Traumatised and angry, Joyce, together with some other mothers including Willow’s, forms MOO – Mothers Opposed to the Occult. And before you can say ‘Salem Witch Trials’ school lockers are being searched for anything possibly witchy and Giles is having his books confiscated from the library. Fear and persecution is sweeping through Sunnydale. Soon Willow and Amy are outed as witches, and together with Buffy, they are taken by the clearly crazed MOO-ers to be burned at the stake. As it turns out there is (as per usual) a nasty demon behind the whole thing. The two ‘dead’ children are in fact a single demon who has been playing this trick throughout the ages, stirring up fear and paranoia in communities, which it then feeds upon. We know it best as Hansel and Gretel, the little brother and sister who caused the death of an innocent old woman centuries ago, with the story being retold rather differently in the subsequent famous Grimm’s fairytale.

What's the sitch beneath the sitch?

Gingerbread is a riff on an old theme: how fear and paranoia can so easily spread and how we need simple scapegoats to blame for our failings as a society. The Salem Witch Trials is perhaps this episode’s most obvious touchstone with Arthur Miller’s McCarthy era parable The Crucible being a major inspiration. But the theme here goes wider. It also goes to the knee jerk tabloid reaction that feeds our modern culture of fear – be it paedophiles behind every tree, or how kids wearing black and listening to the likes of Marylyn Manson is gonna warp their fragile little minds. It’s also about how parents don’t listen and don’t understand their fast growing and changing offspring. Witness Willow’s mom, clearly a very clever lady, but who only ever talks at her daughter, not to her. She doesn’t listen to Willow and as a result knows almost nothing about who her daughter really is. This episode also taps in to that fear that swept the US years ago around the alleged widespread occult/satanic abuse of children, something for which no real evidence has ever been found.

Who's giving us the wiggins this week?

Creepy dead kids aka a giant hairy demon, and the crazed mothers of MOO.

Why it rocks

The concept. It’s a solid concept, which is mostly well handled and the themes are clear and relatable.

A fairytale. Buffy once again delves in to the realm of traditional fairytales and puts its own inimitable twist to the old story of Hansel and Gretel by making the children the evildoers and the witch the innocent victim. Now, I love fairytales – especially when given a new spin. I love the themes, the iconography, and the intrinsic relationship with modern horror that fairytales have. So this one was an easy sell for me.

The great Jane Espenson. She co-wrote Gingerbread and though it's not her best work she has a gift for writing great dialogue and fun character stuff.

MOO. How can you not love an action group with that acronym?

The final ten minutes. The rest of the show is pretty good but the final ten minutes is inspired as Buffy, Willow and Amy are about to be burned alive at the stake, Xander and Oz infiltrate the air ducts to try and get to them to save them, while Giles and Cordy are trying a more direct approach with magic and a fire hose.

Amy the rat. Poor Amy turns herself in to a rat to escape the fire…and stays a rat for the next three years being looked after in a cage by Willow.

Buffy ‘stakes’ the demon. Using the giant stake she’s tied to, Buffy breaks it and more by luck than judgement skewers the advancing demon through the neck. Unfortunately she’s bent double and can’t see what she’s done, hence her eager cries of, “Did I get it? Did I get it?” Heh.

Why it sucks

Joyce doesn’t seem to question that ‘dead’ children are telling her what to do.

Any school would naturally be rather concerned if they found the sorts of books in their library that Giles keeps in Sunnydale High’s. In the real world he’d probably get fired on the spot.

Amy changes herself in to a rat to escape the burning. And she stays a rat for two more seasons despite Willow’s ongoing attempts to change her back. However back in season two’s ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’, Amy changed Buffy in to a rat but Giles managed to change Buffy back at episode’s end. So shouldn’t Willow have just asked Giles for help in turning Amy back?

Why on earth would the residents of Sunnydale hold a witch burning indoors? I know they’ve gone loopy, but still…

It's Buftastic

The whole finale with the failed heroics of Xander and Oz as they fall through the ceiling and then Buffy ‘staking’ the demon.

Dialogue to die for

Buffy (seeing a witch symbol on Willow’s notebook): "What is this?"
Willow: "A doodle. I do doodle. You too. You do doodle, too."

Buffy: "My mom had said some things to me about being the slayer. That it's fruitless. No fruit for Buffy."

Buffy: "I'm like the kid in the story, the boy that stuck his finger in the duck."
Angel: "Dike.” (Buffy looks at him, shocked) “It's another word for dam."
Buffy: "Oh, OK, that story makes a lot more sense now."

Giles: “There is a fringe theory, held by a few folklorists, that some regional stories have actual, very literal antecedents.”
Buffy: “And in some language that's English?”
Oz: “Fairy tales are real.”

Giles: (struggles to his feet after Cordelia has slapped him awake) “We need to save Buffy from Hansel and Gretel.”
Cordelia (confused): “Now, let's be clear. The brain damage happened *before* I hit you.”

And another thing

Parents don’t come out of this episode very well, which is something of a running theme in Buffy. The mothers are close-minded paranoids and the fathers pretty much absent (another running theme in Buffy). Only Giles acquits himself well in the parent role…but that will be put rather severely to the test in the next episode.

How many stakes?

Don’t burn these witches. 3 (out of 5)

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Buffy: 3.10 ‘Amends’

Some of Christophe Beck’s lovely score for ‘Amends’.

Writer: Joss Whedon
Director: Joss Whedon

What's the sitch?

It’s Christmas Eve and victims from Angel’s evil past are haunting him, trying to convince him to give in to his true nature, to give in to his need for Buffy and ultimately to kill her. The vampire with a soul is slowly being driven insane by these ghosts of the past and by his guilt and his barely contained passion for Buffy. Meanwhile Buffy is doing her own guest spots in Angel’s nightmares and is scared that they are losing him again. In desperation, Angel turns to Giles for help. Giles discovers that what is actually persecuting Angel is The First, the first ever evil, the original being that all other evil then sprung from. And The First wants Angel evil again and the Slayer dead. Feeling unable to resist anymore, Angel decides there’s only one way out – to kill himself by waiting for the coming dawn. Buffy defeats The First’s minions who are doing the ghostly conjuring and then rushes to stop Angel from committing suicide in the Christmas Day sun.

What's the sitch beneath the sitch?

It’s pretty much in the title. This is all about guilt and making amends. It’s about taking the hard path to trying to put things right and not taking the easy way out, about living a better life. Joss is basically channelling Dickens here with a hefty dose of A Christmas Carol as ghosts arrive to terrify and taunt Angel showing him what a terrible life he has led. The Buffy twist being that, unlike Dickens, the ghosts here don’t want to make Angel a better man. No, they want him evil again. It falls to Buffy to try and convince him about taking the hard path to becoming more than he was, to being a good and worthwhile man.

Who's giving us the wiggins this week?

The First and it’s blind Bringers.

Why it rocks

It’s a Joss episode. Need more? Okay…

The tale is very Dickensian in theme, tone and style. This is helped enormously by the beautifully put together flashbacks of a snowy Dublin in the 1800’s. These must have cost a small fortune what with the many, many extras, snow machines, period costumes, horses and other props. But worth every penny.

The cast. Everyone of them is great but especially David Boreanaz who does a very good turn as a confused and tortured soul gradually coming apart. Shame though about his Oirish accent. Yikes!

The score. Christophe Beck provides a beautifully haunting score for this episode especially in the flashback sequences.

Evil Angel. The scene where evil Angel menaces and then murders a young housemaid in old Dublin as she pleads for her life and that of her child. Despite the silly wig and terrible tash on Boreanaz it is wonderfully chilling stuff.

Willow’s continual reminders to her friends that she is Jewish and doesn’t partake in Christmas.

Willow’s attempted seduction of Oz using the music of the late great Barry White.

Faith coming over to Buffy’s for Christmas Eve with her “crappy” presents.

The First Evil. In season 3 Joss already appears to be setting up the ultimate Big Bad for the final ever season of Buffy four years later. Great advance planning or just coincidence? Knowing Joss I go for the first (or First).

Robia LaMorte. She’s back as Jenny Calendar…kinda, and does sterling work.

The little Mutant Enemy guy wearing his Santa hat in the end credits logo.

Why it sucks

David Boreanaz should never, I repeat NEVER be allowed to do an Irish accent. Brrr.

Angel’s dodgy 1800’s wig and awful matching moustache. Oh Joss, what were you thinking?

Despite the numerous mentions of how hot it was, many characters are wearing coats and warm clothes.

The Angel/Buffy confrontation on the hillside as the sun is about to rise becomes a bit too overwrought for my tastes with some unusually ripe dialogue for a Joss script.

The snowfall over Sunnydale blocking out the sun is very, very cheesy and the actual snow in Sunnydale looks rubbish. Unlike in the Dublin flashbacks it looks like what it is – white foam sprayed on stuff.

It's Buftastic

The fantastic scene (one of the best of the whole season) of a guilty and nervous Willow trying to seduce Oz with candles and Barry White. It’s immensely sweet and very funny. Oz looks wonderfully uncomfortable and the two actors play the scene to perfection. If you didn’t love Oz before (and why not?) then you surely will after this.

Dialogue to die for

Buffy: "You're weak, everybody is. Everybody fails ... Angel, you have the power to do real good, to make amends. But if you die now, then all that you ever were was a monster."

Angel: “Um... I'm sorry to bother you.”
Giles: “Sorry. Coming from you that phrase strikes me as rather funny. 'Sorry to bother me.'”
Angel: “I need your help.”
Giles: “And the funny keeps on coming.”

Joyce: “So, angel’s on top again?”
Buffy (shocked, looks to her mom): “What?”
Joyce (holding up an angel and a star): “Angel or star for the tree?”

Xander: “Angel? Weird? What are the odds?”

And another thing

The weatherman, Mark Kriski, was the real weatherman for L.A.’s KTLA's morning news.

In the end credits logo, little Mutant Enemy guy wears a Santa cap, and there are bells jingling in the background.

Giles keeps a Christmas stocking in the library with his name on it. Maybe he knows the truth about Santa. I just hope it isn’t the ‘Rare Exports’ truth.

How many stakes?

Angel’s on top. 3.5 (out of 5)

Buffy: 3.9 ‘The Wish’

Short trailer for the episode.

Writer: Marti Noxon
Director: David Greenwalt

What's the sitch?

Cordelia is back at school post-injury and is blanking Xander while looking to get back in with her previous crowd of Harmony and co. However this doesn’t work out as the bitchy girls are intent on making fun of and humiliating Cordy for her relationship with Xander whenever possible. Cordy’s only silver lining is new girl Anya who strikes up a friendship with her but seems oddly obsessed with trying to get Cordy to make a wish that will harm Xander. Inadvertently Cordy does just that…by wishing that Buffy Summers never came to Sunnydale. And seeing as how Anya is really Anyanka, a vengeance demon who grants wishes to romantically wronged women, Cordy is instantly transported in to an alternate reality where Buffy never did come to town and so the Master did rise and the vampires now pretty much run things. And in this reality Xander and Willow are both vampires, Angel is a prisoner who is regularly tortured by Willow for fun (the ‘puppy’) and Giles leads a small band of ever dwindling resistance. Cordy tries to explain to Giles what has happened but before she can tell the full story she falls victim to evil Willow. It is left to Giles to try and work things out and to try and contact the elusive Buffy Summers and convince her to come to Sunnydale and help put things right.

What's the sitch beneath the sitch?

Be careful what you wish for. No great metaphor or allegory here but the theme is a classic one of being mindful of what you have as the alternative could always be much, much worse. It’s basically ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ Buffy style.

Who's giving us the wiggins this week?

Anyanka, The Master, vampires Willow and Xander.

Why it rocks

A new world. Yay! It’s alternate reality time. Almost all of the great genre shows get to do at least one of these with possibly Star Trek being the most famous with the Mirror Universe tales. Alternate realities allow writers to let rip and have fun by pretty much doing anything with the characters they can dream of. So here, in Buffy, we get a beaten down and emasculated Angel, gloriously evil and sexually provocative vampires Xander and Willow, and a cynical and battle scarred (literally) Buffy who is almost exactly the same as Faith is in ‘real’ reality.

The script. Writer Marti Noxon does a great job with the script and even pulls a Psycho on us leading us to believe that Cordy will be the central character of the piece. She isn’t. Twenty minutes in and its curtains for Cordy. Essentially Giles is the hero here. He puts things together and ultimately saves the day.

The plan. The Master’s diabolical plot of mass production of blood by factory farming humans is horrible and when the first victim is electronically stunned like a cow to slaughter then placed on the machine and automatically bled to death you can’t help but get a chill. Nasty stuff.

Battle scarred Buffy. SMG is great. She doesn’t say much but when she does it sounds very Faith-like. She just wants to kick ass and has no time for teamwork or plans. It’s also great seeing how she barely even notices when Angel gets staked or when Willow and Xander do as well. It’s quite a jarring moment…as is what happens to her at the hands of The Master.

Anya/Anyanka. Emma Caulfield makes a creepy/fun first impression as vengeance demon Anyanka. She doesn’t have that much to do here but luckily the producers saw in her much potential and kept her on in a recurring guest role where she soon blossomed and became one of the very best and funniest characters in the entire seven year run of the series.

Vampire Willow. Not to be confused with Dark Willow (black eyed, raging magic girl from season 6), Vampire Willow became an instantly iconic character. Alyson Hannigan is simply brilliant and is clearly having way too much fun playing the deliciously cruel, slinky, S&M wearing deviant vampire version of Willow. Her line of “Bored Now” first delivered in this episode became the much-loved catch phrase for Willow whenever she was in evil (Vamp or Dark) mode. Oh, and her creepy, sexy torturing of Angel is a twisted highlight of this episode and of the whole season. And things only got better further in to this season when Joss brought the character back for his utterly brilliant and wondrously classic episode ‘Doppelgangland’.

Why it sucks

As with most stories of this type everything gets resolved happily at the end with nobody knowing what happened and everything back to how it should be. This kinda negates the weight of what came before. But that’s just how these things work and isn’t a major issue.

In the alternate reality I’d have liked to have known why Buffy never went to Sunnydale and why she seemed to end up in Cleveland instead. And also how come she’s so Faith-like. Surely it can’t just be because she never met Giles, Willow and Xander. Is her mom still around? It doesn’t seem like it.

It's Buftastic

The great fight scene shot from ground level as Giles lays on the ground while a mysterious saviour kills a bunch of nasty vamps he’s been trying to fend off. We only see legs and people flying to the ground and off-camera sound effects of fighting and dusting. Of course it is eventually revealed to be Buffy having arrived in the nick of time to save this watcher she doesn’t know.

Dialogue to die for

Willow: “Isn't he gonna poof?”
Buffy: “I guess these guys don't. We'll have to bury him or something. Ohh, makes you appreciate vamps, though. No fuss, no muss.”

Xander: “And they burst in, rescuing us, without even knocking? I mean, this is really all their fault.”
Buffy: “Your logic does not resemble our Earth logic.”
Xander: “Mine is much more advanced.”

Buffy: “I don't play well with others. Now, I'm gonna ask you this once, and then I'm gonna get testy.”

Vampire Willow: “Bored now.”

And another thing

We see Cordelia's bedroom for the first time in this episode.

This is Emma (Anya) Caulfield’s first appearance on Buffy. She will stay on as a recurring guest star and eventually become a regular cast member with her name in the opening credits from season 5.

How many stakes?

There is no alternative. 4 (out of 5)

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Buffy: 3.8 ‘Lover’s Walk’

Cool animation to Spike’s “Love’s Bitch…” speech.

Writer: Dan Vebber
Director: David Semel

What's the sitch?

A drunken, miserable and broken-hearted Spike returns to Sunnydale after being dumped by Drusilla who went and ran off with a mucus-covered chaos demon due to not being able to get over Spike having teamed up with the Slayer to defeat Angel’s world destroying plans last season. This has gone and left our favourite platinum vamp a bitter and broken creature of the night…until he hatches a plan to get Dru back using a love spell. But for that he’ll need a witch. Luckily for Spike Willow fits the bill. So he kidnaps the red headed Wiccan along with Xander, who are both caught in the midst of their own growing mutual attraction, and locks them up telling Willow to do the spell or he’ll kill Xander. Willow agrees but needs supplies. Spike heads out to get those supplies but soon runs in to Buffy and Angel. Telling them he has Willow and Xander hostage somewhere they’ll never find, he forces the pair to help him get the ingredients he needs to cast the love spell as well as to fight off a bunch of local demons just aching for a piece of Spike’s hide.

What's the sitch beneath the sitch?

It’s all about love, baby. Well, more precisely, being Buffy it’s actually about the pain and confusion and misery of love. Home truths are told…mostly by Spike. For some reason he can see through the lie Buffy and Angel are both living regarding their relationship. They aren’t ‘just friends’ and never will be. It takes this evil vampire, a creature of confounding emotional empathy and sensitivity, to tell the truth about love and passion. At the same time Willow and Xander are fighting their growing mutual attraction and physical urges. They feel terrible about what is happening between them as they both care deeply for their respective partners and yet seem helpless to stop it. Thinking they are gonna die trapped in the old factory, they give in and engage in a passionate clinch…only to be caught in the act by Oz and Cordy who’ve come to rescue them. The episode ends unhappily for almost everyone. Buffy knows what Spike said about her and Angel is true, while Cordy is in hospital after getting injured fleeing from the sight of Xander cheating on her. Oz, meanwhile, has gone quiet and withdrawn as would be his way, and Willow and Xander are distraught but have no idea how to fix things. The only person who ends this episode happy is Spike. He had an epiphany, deciding to become the old Spike again, to forget magic and moping and to just go get Dru back the way he knows best…with evil and extreme violence. And he leaves town a cheerful and reinvigorated monster.

Who's giving us the wiggins this week?


Why it rocks

Spike, Spike, Spike… Need I go on? Okay, I will.

Spike’s drunken arrival in town knocking down the Sunnydale sign as he did in his very first entrance in season 2.

James Marsters. He’s utterly brilliant and owns this episode entirely. From his first scene crashing the car in to the Sunnydale sign ala last season’s ‘School Hard’ (only this time falling out in a drunken stupor), to pouring out his heart to Joyce over hot chocolate, to his vulnerable and passionate speech about the nature of love, the guy is a pure joy to behold.

The aforementioned scene with Joyce. It is typical of Buffy that a scene/story you think will go one way goes and takes a sharp left turn. We assume Spike is gonna attack or hurt Joyce when he goes to Buffy’s house. In fact, he just wants some motherly comfort and a friendly non-judgemental ear. Both actors play it beautifully and its almost a shame when Angel and then Buffy turn up to move the plot along. This scene is the start of what is one of the most sweet, subtle and fun relationships on the show. Spike and Joyce genuinely seem to like each other and form an odd sort of mother/son bond. It wasn’t hugely explored but it is there. And when in season 5 Joyce dies and Spike comes to the house with flowers, it isn’t an act. He genuinely liked the lady. But then as we find out later in the show Spike has some major mother issues to deal with.

The pain of love. Yep, love in Buffy is never pleasant or smooth or fairytale. It’s pain, pain and more pain. And ‘Lover’s Walk’ brings that pain mostly to Willow/Oz and Xander/Cordy but also to Buffy and Angel by exposing the lie they are both living. This of course will lead to Angel leaving for LA at the end of this season with the promise of his own successful series.

Dan Vebber. The guy wrote a great script full of heartache, pathos, pain, hilarity, violence, thematic depth and major character development. There is no big monster to slay this week or a mystical thingamabob to find/destroy, it is simply all about the characters and what they are going through. It’s brilliantly Buffy that in the end Spike can’t be arsed with the love spell and just tells Buffy where he’s stashed her friends before heading off a much happier vampire. Not many shows will go and nullify an entire episode’s plot with one line and then just let the villain walk away having been the overall winner from proceedings.

Spike leaving town in his car while happily singing along to Gary Oldman’s performance of Sid Vicious’s version of ‘My Way’. Priceless.

Why it sucks

Hardly any Giles.

Where’s Faith?

It's Buftastic

Spike’s drunken, violent arrival in town. Classic!

Dialogue to die for

Oz: "I can see why you'd be upset. Uh, that was my sarcastic voice."
Xander: "Y'know, it sounds a lot like your regular voice."
Oz: "I've been told that."

Buffy: "She saw these scores and her head spun around and exploded."
Giles: "I've been on the Hellmouth too long. That was metaphorical, yes?"

Spike: "You're not friends. You'll never be friends. You'll be in love 'til it kills you both. You'll fight, and you'll shag, and you'll hate each other 'til it makes you quiver, but you'll never be friends. Love isn't brains, children, it's blood. Blood screaming inside you to work its will. I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it."

Spike: “I'm really glad I came here, you know? I've been all wrongheaded about this. Weeping, crawling, blaming everybody else. I want Dru back, I've just gotta be the man I was, the man she loved. I'm gonna do what I shoulda done in the first place: I'll find her, wherever she is, tie her up, torture her until she likes me again.”

And another thing

According to the "Welcome to Sunnydale" sign Spike runs over, the population of Sunnydale is 38,500.

That really was James Marsters’ hand on fire in the scene where Spike wakes up in the sun. They couldn’t figure out how to do it with a stuntman and keep it all in the same shot, so James volunteered. It took two takes and he received some minor burns but says he was happy to have done it.

The version of ‘My Way’ Spike sings along to is sung by Gary Oldman playing Sid Vicious in the movie Sid and Nancy – a tip of the hat to the inspiration behind Spike and Dru.

How many stakes?

Spike’s doing it his way. 4.5/5

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Buffy: 3.7 ‘Revelations’

Let girl fight commence

Writer: Doug Petrie
Director: James A. Contner

What's the sitch?

A new Watcher comes to town in order to take over duties for Faith. Gwendolyn Post is her name and she is one very stiff, proper and distinctly obnoxious lady. At first Faith can’t stand her though she soon develops a grudging respect and affection for the new hard-nosed Watcher lady. But Mrs Post is also in town on another mission: to find the fabled Glove of Midigon – a device that will give its wearer enormous power – before it falls in to the clawed hands of a bunch of nasty demon types. After a fairly brief search, Buffy finds the Glove and leaves it with Angel until they can figure out how best to destroy it. Afterwards, arriving back at the library, Buffy sees that her Angel secret is now out. The gang (minus Faith) has discovered that she’s been secretly harbouring the returned Angel and they confront her about her deceit. After said confrontation, Xander, still angry at Buffy and thinking Angel is still evil, goes and tells Faith what’s happened. Equally annoyed at Buffy’s actions, our badass slayer heads off to bag herself a certain resurrected broody vampire. Meanwhile, Mrs Post has gone and discovered that the Glove of Midigon is being kept at Angel’s and heads off to retrieve it…just as Buffy finds out that Faith is on her way to slay her one time undead paramour. Needless to say she rushes off to stop her. And so the stage is now set for a major confrontation at Angel’s place.

What's the sitch beneath the sitch?

Secrets, lies and betrayal are rife here. And those secrets come back to bite. Buffy has been keeping her secret about Angel, keeping vital information about his return from everyone including Giles, and they all feel mightily (and justifiably) annoyed. Meanwhile Mrs Post is keeping her own dark secrets, secrets that may also cause a great deal of harm. And Faith is starting to feel like an outsider to the scoobies in what will be the beginning of her descent in to darkness and villainy. This descent isn’t helped by the betrayal of Mrs Post who has been conning the tough yet vulnerable slayer by pretending to forge a close and meaningful relationship with her.

Who's giving us the wiggins this week?

Mrs Post and a bunch of vampire cultists.

Why it rocks

Giles’ reactions to being constantly belittled by Mrs Post.

Xander being Xander to Buffy about Angel – genuine anger and immature jealousy mixing together.

Giles’s quietly angry/distraught chastising of Buffy for her not telling him about Angel’s return. Tony Head is fab here.

The Buffy/Faith fight – the shape of things to come.

The main theme of secrets, lies and betrayal works quite well.

The twist/reveal works quite well.

Why it sucks

Serena Scott Thomas. She’s frankly rubbish as Mrs Post. The following year she had a small role in Bond film The World is not Enough and was rubbish in that too. Older sister Kristin definitely got all the acting talent.

The main story (the Glove of Midigon) is fairly run of the mill stuff with no real explanation given for Mrs Post’s behaviour or how come the Council would allow her to carry on doing the things she’s doing.

And how come the gang isn’t including Faith more? No wonder she’s getting a bit annoyed with them. She’s been MIA for a while now. What’s she been doing all by herself?

It's Buftastic

The brief but very cool Buffy/Faith fight.

Dialogue to die for

Giles (following his first meeting with Mrs. Post): "That was... bracing."
Buffy: "Interesting lady. Can I kill her?"
Giles: "The Council might frown upon that."

Giles (to Buffy): "I won't remind you that the fate of the world often lies with the Slayer. What would be the point? Nor shall I remind you that you've jeopardised the lives of all that you hold dear by harbouring a known murderer. But, sadly, I must remind you that Angel tortured me... for hours, for pleasure. You should have told me he was alive. You didn't. You have no respect for me or the job I perform."

Buffy: “Synchronised slaying.”
Faith: “New Olympic category?”

Cordelia: “So there's no more glove-thingy?”
Xander: “Nah, a little living fire, a little mesquite - gone for good.”
Oz: “Sounds like we missed a lot of fun.”
Xander: “Then we're telling it wrong.”

And another thing

Serena Scott Thomas is the sister of actress Kristin Scott Thomas.

This is the first episode written by then story editor Doug Petrie. He would go on to write some of the best Faith-centric episodes of Buffy.

How many stakes?

The truth hurts. 2 (out of 5)