Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Buffy Rewatch: Two Slayers, No Waiting

We meet Kendra in the two-parter "What's My Line", and John Ritter dates Buffy's mom in "Ted".

"You talk about slaying like it's a job. It's not. It's who you are."

Here's an unexpected realization of rewatching BUFFY in 2014: the series, at it existed in the late-90s, would NEVER be made today.

Sunnydale High, throughout Buffy's first three seasons, was the setting for a wide variety of supernatural attacks, violence and death. When you sit on top of a Hellmouth, and the Slayer is a student on your campus, you're going to attract more than your share of supernatural beasties.

In "What's My Line, Part 2", a police officer opens fire in a high school.

(Of course, it's not a real police officer, but rather an assassin sent to kill the Slayer. But still: a police officer opens fire in a high school.)

The overlap between BUFFY and real world tragedy was biggest at the end of season three, when both "Earshot" and "Graduation Day" were postponed after the shootings at Columbine. There have been additional school schootings since 1999; schools can no longer be seen as safe places. Sunnydale High could be a place of supernatural shenanigans because the very idea of a school being a place of violence was supposed to be absurd. Sadly, that's no longer the case.

"What's My Line" is a terrific two-parter. Part 1 expertly misdirects the introduction of the second Slayer, by making us think Kendra is one of the assassins that Spike summoned. The existence of a second Slayer is, of course, a result of Buffy dying during the fight with the Master in "Prophecy Girl". The surprise introduction of a second Slayer doesn't stand up to scrutiny, when you think about what's introduced later with the Watchers' Council, but that's only in hindsight. "I'm Kendra, the Vampire Slayer!" remains a GREAT cliffhanger.

Kendra herself is a problematic character. (Or, at least, a character with a problematic accent.) In many ways, she's a much more traditional Slayer than Buffy is; she and Giles establish an immediate book-related rapport. ("Check out the she-Giles!" Buffy memorably quips.) And while it's nice for Buffy to be able to talk to someone - literally, the only other person alive who knows what she's going through - Kendra's just not a very interesting character, except to highlight everything that Buffy isn't. (Like Principal Snyder is a much better authority antagonist than Principal Flutie, Faith will prove to be a much better co-Slayer than Kendra.)

Spike was supposed to die at the end of "What's My Line, Part 2" - and I think we can all be grateful that THAT didn't happen. Also: Xander and Cordy kiss! Oz offers Willow a canape! Then they flirt (super-cutely) about monkey pants! Lots of "SQUEE!" for everyone!

I've been trying - unsuccessfully - to find a source for Joss's statement that someone else (David Greenwalt, perhaps?) came up with the idea of introducing a second Slayer. It ends up being an important development for understanding How The Slayer Thing Works, which is something we'll come back to later in the series. I remember thinking, with two Slayers, does that mean they each have half of the Slayer's full power? Is there a limited amount of Slayerness to go around? Or is Kendra the *real* Slayer, and Buffy some sort of Slayer Emeritus? And, really, it's not until the series finale that all these questions are fully answered. Though the second Slayer may not have been Joss's idea, he sure makes damn good use of it.

If I remember correctly, "Ted" was actually the first BUFFY episode I saw. I had heard good things about the series, but it had an unusual airing pattern in Canada, so I didn't become a regular viewer until partway thru season 3. It's a notable episode for featuring John Ritter, who is probably the biggest guest star in the entire series. And it's actually a better episode than I remembered it being.

In my memory, the ending of "Ted" was problematic, in that it depended on Joyce being in denial about the events that transpired; but I think the episode actually successfully deals with Joyce and Buffy reconciling without it feeling false or too much of a fake reset-to-zero.

"Ted" also offers a nice parallel to the "Nightmares" version of Hank Summers: the distant father moving on vs. the aggressive, violent stepfather. Both would be terrifying for a 16-year-old girl.

"What's My Line, Part 1": A+
"What's My Line, Part 2": A
"Ted": A

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