Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Buffy Rewatch: Let It Go

Season 3 begins with "Anne", "Dead Man's Party", and "Faith, Hope, and Trick".

"You made some bad choices. You may just have to live with some consequences."

One of the more frustrating story lines on BREAKING BAD was Jesse's in the first half of season 4. At the end of season 3, Jesse killed the kind, libertarian chemist Gale, as a means of ensuring his and Walt's safety. In season 4, Jesse spiralled into depression, partying and using drugs: anything to numb the pain. It was absolutely required from a character perspective, but it was quite frustrating as a viewer.

Season 3 of BUFFY begins in a similar place, and it takes the first three episodes for Buffy to get to a point where she can deal with the events of "Becoming". We last saw Buffy (kicked out of home, kicked out of school) on a bus leaving Sunnydale. "Anne" picks things up a few months later, with Buffy - using her middle name, Anne - working as a waitress in a diner. She runs into Lily (who was "Chanterelle" back in the episode "Lie To Me", and who will appear again later in ANGEL), and - long story short - she helps rescue some street kids from what looks like the set of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom". By the end, Buffy makes her first steps to returning to herself, and the episode, wonderfully, closes with Buffy returning home and Joyce hugging her.

There's a cool shot near the beginning of "Anne" (written and directed by Joss Whedon). It's the first day of school, and the gang (sans Buffy, of course) is reconnecting at Sunnydale High. Check the 7:00 minute mark of the episode: from the library, down the hall, to the cafeteria and lounge, following various conversations, the shot lasts nearly three and a half minutes. It doesn't exactly call attention to itself, like, say, the famous shot in TRUE DETECTIVE did earlier this year - and in a way, that makes this shot even better.

You have to have confidence to pull off a shot like that: confidence in your own skills as a director to do it but not make it too show-offy, and confidence in the cast and crew to pull it off. (Because when you don't edit, you can't cheat.) It also, I thinks, helps make the Sunnydale High set a more concrete, realized, real space. (He'll use similar shots to the opposite effect in "Restless" nearly two season later.)

"Dead Man's Party" is, sadly, a bit of a dud. There are some good things in it - all the scenes of Buffy trying to reconnect with people, and Giles has a wonderful moment by himself, in his kitchen - but the A-plot (Joyce's Nigerian mask turns the recently deceased into zombies) is pretty boring. And don't even get me started on how rude it was for the gang to turn the gathering at Buffy's into a hootenanny.

Season 3 really takes off with its third episode, "Faith, Hope, and Trick". (Just like season 2 really took off with its third episode, "School Hard".) The episodes title refers to three characters introduced in the episode: Buffy's potential new crush Scott Hope, the demon Mr. Trick, and the amazing, unforgettable Slayer Faith. We will have lots of time to talk about Faith as season three progresses, but I was impressed as I re-watched her introduction: like Spike and Drusilla a year earlier, Faith was a fully drawn character from her earliest scenes. The seeds of all of her problems that will later make her such a great, complex character are planted here, and Eliza Dushku is perfect for the role. (But, like I said, we'll get back to her.)

The key tension in this episode is that between Buffy and Giles. Giles is looking for more detail about Angel's death, ostensibly to help bind Acathla or some such nonsense - but really, it's for Buffy's own benefit. Buffy, who for months hadn't told anyone what happened when Angel died, and who had just seen Faith struggle with the death of her own Watcher, finally spills to Giles and Willow: "When I killed him, Angel was cured. Your spell worked at the last minute, Will. I was about to take him out, and, um... something went through him... and he was Angel again. He didn't remember anything that he'd done. He just held me. Um, but it was... it was too late, and I had to. So I told him that I loved him... and I kissed him... and I killed him."

She's finally ready to say good-bye to Angel, and what do you know: the son of a bitch reappears right as the episode ends.

"Anne": B
"Dead Man's Party": C
"Faith, Hope, and Trick": A-

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