Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Buffy Rewatch: The Man With a Past

Two episodes this week: "Lie To Me" and "The Dark Age".

"I never wanted you to see that side of me."

This seems as good a time as any to discuss a topic I keep thinking about as I rewatch this great, great series: cable vs. broadcast seasons.

The standard model for a network show has long been to air a season of 22 (-ish) episodes starting in September and ending in May, perhaps scattering reruns throughout. Then cable channels (HBO is, of course, the most important example) began producing original dramas, creating shorter seasons (12-13 episodes, usually) and airing them uninterrupted.

The 13-episode cable season is probably better suited to serialized storytelling. The reduced episode count and compressed schedule makes it easier for the audience to follow complex storylines and lots of characters.  But a broadcast network show, with its larger number of episodes in each season, can explore its stories and its characters in different ways. At their best, these series can have episodes and storylines that digress from the main plots of the season and create fuller, richer stories and characters. And I think BUFFY remains the greatest example of this.

We met Spike and Drusilla back in episode 2.03, "School Hard". They've appeared briefly in some of the five episodes that have aired since, but we've spent most of those five episodes on other stories. And though it wasn't planned like this - this week in the Rewatch had two episodes instead of three mainly because I didn't want to split up the two parts of "What's My Line". But this worked out well, because both "Lie To Me" and "The Dark Age" are great episodes about the Buffy/Giles relationship.

"Lie To Me" is the third episode directed by Joss Whedon, and it clearly shows how much he's already grown as a director. Whedon's got a fantastic command of the episode's tone - even before we know that Ford's desire to become a vampire was inspired by his brain tumor, there's a great sadness underlying everything happening. The final scene of the episode, with Buffy and Giles at Ford's grave, is a knockout. Buffy has a line that may be a little on the nose, but it's as good a summary of the show's increasingly complicated view of morality, and of growing up, as anything:

"Nothing's ever simple anymore. I'm constantly trying to work it out. Who to love, or hate. Who to trust. It's like, the more I know, the more confused I get."

I also love Giles' lie in response to Buffy's "Does it ever get easy?" "Yes, it's terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true. The bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats. We always defeat them, and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after." It really gets to the parental core of this Watcher/Slayer relationship, in which he both protects and prepares her.

"The Dark Age" brings back Ethan Rayne, and fills in the "Hello... Ripper" blanks from "Halloween". We find out that Giles and his friends were into dark magic when they were younger and, yada yada, a demon was now coming back to kill them all. The specifics aren't important, but seeing the flaws, the complexities in a parental figure is. Buffy to Giles: "I'm not gonna lie to you. It was scary. I'm so used to you being a grown-up, and then I find out you're a person."

And now I'm having all the feelings, thinking about various great Buffy/Giles moments to come in the series. The great close-up of Giles at the end of "The Gift"... Giles rushing to Buffy's side in "The Body"... Giles singing "Standing"... everything in "Helpless"... the alternate universe Buffy/Giles scenes in "Doppelgangland"... and, of course, how Buffy convinces Giles she is who she says she is in "Who Are You." ("What's a stevedore?")

The youthful arrogance of young Giles also creates a nice parallel with the Willow of season 6. And when the demon says (in Jenny's body) "Three down, two to go" - well, there's a bit near the end of season 6 that seems like a direct callback to this. (Though I'm guessing it's likely just a happy coincidence.)

"Lie To Me": A
"The Dark Age": A-

What did everyone else think?

1 comment:

  1. I really liked the "lie" at the end of "Lie to Me". I've read in interviews that Joss Whedon identifies as an existentialist and I think both Buffy and Angel do an amazing job of depicting a universe, especially a supernatural universe, where good and evil are not clear and objective