Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Buffy Rewatch: The Waiting is the Hardest Part

This week, we mostly stall the Angelus storyline, with "Killed By Death", "I Only Have Eyes For You", and "Go Fish."

"We'll have to do this again sometime."

Through the first 17 episodes of season 2, I've given the show five A+ grades and four A grades. I was thinking that I might have trouble justifying calling any other season the show's best. But then we got to episodes 18, 19, and 20.

It's understandable that we'd need a bit of a breather after "Passion", but here's the thing: pacing matters. We're five episodes from the end of the season, Angelus has just killed Jenny, and we get three stand-alone episodes that don't really address the big stories of season 2.

BUFFY, in its second season, was clearly in that odd state where it mixed serialized stories with stand-alone episodes, and here, unfortunately, we get stand-alone episodes leading into the two-part finale. And I completely understand - and appreciate - that in a 22 episode season, the storytelling will ebb and flow. And as I've said before, that's one of the strengths of a 22 episode broadcast network season: the ability to explore stories and characters that a more focused and serialized cable season wouldn't have time for. In a 22 episode season, the stories can breathe. But the trouble here is that, at this point in the season, we don't want the stories to breathe.

Angelus appears in all three episodes, but mostly in a "Buffy and Angel aren't ready for their big final battle yet" way. And nothing of real consequence occurs in any of these episodes, which just makes it feel like the show is stalling. (Fortunately, "Becoming" is worth the wait. But we'll get to that next week.)

In "Killed By Death", Buffy is hospitalized with the flu. While there, she saves some children from a demon only she and they can see while really ill. It's also the same demon that killed Buffy's cousin years earlier. It's tough for a show (even BUFFY) to pull off a kids-in-jeopardy storyline, and while the demon himself is scary in a Freddie Krueger way, it's not a particularly memorable episode.

"I Only Have Eyes For You" is, both literally and figuratively, a Marti Noxon episode. Noxon joined the writing staff in season 2, and eventually took over as show-runner in season 6. I'm curious to see how season 6 looks, 12 years later, but we'll get to that in a few months. (If you google "Marti Noxon", the first option is "ruined Buffy", which was definitely the popular opinion back in 2002.)

Noxon was known for episodes that were heavy with the romantic travails of the show's various characters, and "I Only Have Eyes For You" is a particularly maudlin example. Spirits of lovers, trapped in the halls of Sunnydale High for 50 years, reenact their final night together (in which the male student - played by Christopher Gorham! - shot and killed his lover / teacher) over and over, using the bodies of various people at the school. Eventually, the spirits take over the bodies of Buffy and Angel, and Buffy and Angel get to play out an alternate ending for the spirits, but only after lots of dialogue along the lines of "You said you loved me!" and whatnot. Though Gellar and Boreanaz do their best with it, it's all very overwrought.

A couple of small but notable developments: Spike, who'd been in a wheelchair since the end of "What's My Line, Part 2", can walk again, and Principal Snyder has a conversation with a city councillor, regarding the Hellmouth and the Mayor. Now, we know the Mayor will play a key role in season 3, but this is one of those "there's a massive conspiracy afoot!" kind of bits that much lesser shows try, and fail, to use all the time. And BUFFY ends up not really using it in that way, so it feels a bit superfluous.

And then there's "Go Fish". AKA "Xander in a Speedo". I don't really have a lot to say about this one, except it seems most obviously to be a time-killer until "Becoming". Like some other episodes from the first couple of seasons, it has a very strong X-FILES vibe - particularly the open-ended resolution. There are some nice guest appearances from Wentworth Miller and Conchata Farrell, but Xander's Speedo remains the most memorable thing in the episode.

And all of this complaining is about to be irrelevant, because next week brings "Becoming."

"Killed By Death": C
"I Only Have Eyes For You": C
"Go Fish": C

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