Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Buffy Rewatch: Let's Hear It For The Boys

The guys of the Buffyverse take center stage this week, with "Phases", "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered", and "Passion".

"Since Angel lost his soul, he's regained his sense of whimsy."

First, I just want to say that I am loving this little project. Since BUFFY ended in 2003, I've seen random episodes occasionally, but I love being able to rewatch the whole series again. I care about these characters so deeply (especially Buffy and Willow), and I love watching them on their journeys again. (We'll see how I feel when I get to season 6.) The show is aging SO WELL (much better than, I think, a show like BREAKING BAD will). Sure the technology is dated (E-LETTERS!), but these characters and their transformations are as powerful and involving now as they were 15 years ago.

This week, again by sheer coincidence of scheduling, we get three episodes prominently featuring the male characters. First, Oz becomes a more fully integrated member of the gang in "Phases". And he also becomes a werewolf. Seth Green's deadpan delivery is a welcome contrast to Nicholas Brendon's Matthew Perry-like quippiness. In "Phases", he has a great scene where he calls his Aunt Maureen after he was bit by his coudin Jordy: "Aunt Maureen? Hey, it's me. Um, what? Oh. It's, uh... actually it's healing okay. That's pretty much the reason I called. Um, I wanted to ask you something. Is Jordy a werewolf? Uh-huh. And how long has that been going on? Uh-huh. What? No, no reason. Um... Thanks. Yeah, love to Uncle Ken."

The show handles the introduction of werewolves very effectively: unlike vampires, werewolves are still human (except for three nights a month), and don't deserve to be killed. Again, the morality of the show remains complex. There's also a great subplot with the bully Larry, whom Xander suspects of being the werewolf. But Larry's actually gay. It's a great, understated way of introducing a gay character AND explaining Larry's bullying of Xander without excusing it.

My big complaint about "Phases" is that I don't really like the werewolf hunter Cain, and how his necklace of fangs created an unsolved continuity nightmare for the editor.

Xander takes center stage in "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered". After Cordelia breaks up with him, Xander gets Amy (from "The Witch") to cast a spell to get Cordelia to fall in love with him, so he can reject her. The spell, of course, backfires, and Xander finds himself the object of affection for all the women in Sunnydale. Including Willow. And Buffy. And Joyce. And Drusilla. Everyone but Cordy. It's a knockout episode, light on Buffy (it was filmed while Gellar was in New York for her SNL appearance) but heavy on laughs.

It's also got a much better structure than the earlier Xander episode "The Pack". Here, it's not until about halfway through the episode that the spell is cast. It really allows the episode to escalate from the break-up and Xander's heartbroken reaction, to the spell and its consequences. And though it's a Xander episode, Cordelia gets a couple of nice moments. Her line to Joyce is immortal: "Get your mom-aged mitts off my boyfriend! Former!" And when she reconciles with Xander instead of siding with her vapid friends, it's a genuine moment of growth for her.

I'd quibble about the "suspense" with the scenes after Amy turns Buffy into a rat - watch out for the mousetrap! and the cat! - but the rest of the episode is so strong that it doesn't matter.

Over sixteen years later, and "Passion" has lost little of its power. Its centerpiece scenes are, of course, Jenny's death at Angel's hands and Giles' discovery of her body in his bed. Both sequences are still stunning, and both sequences show how twisted Angelus really is.

I love that the show can play with point-of-view like it does in these three episodes, but one aspect of "Passion" doesn't really work for me: Angel's voice-over. It manages to be both on-the-nose (better actors than David Boreanaz would struggle with narration like "Passion is the source of our finest moments; the joy of love, the clarity of hatred, and the ecstasy of grief") and completely unnecessary. Other shows (GREY'S ANATOMY, for example) do thematic voice-over regularly; it just really sticks out here because it's unique to this episode of BUFFY.

There are other episodes of BUFFY later in the series (everything from "The Body" to "Conversations With Dead People") that will experiment with structure much more effectively (and dramatically) than "Passion" did. "Passion" may not be perfect, but it's still pretty damn great.

"Phases": A-
"Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered": A+
"Passion": A

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