Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Buffy Rewatch: Ch-ch-ch-changes
"It's exciting, though, isn't it?"
"Yeah! It's gonna be an adjustment."
Shows have to change to allow the characters to grow. Shows that don't change risk having the audience get bored, as the show repeats the same stories and character beats over and over. On the other hand, shows that change risk having the audience revolt, saying "It's not as good as it used to be!" And I know that there's a segment of the BUFFY fandom that only loves the first three seasons. (But then, there are those of us (aka, "the ones who are correct") who think the show's peak is still a season away.)
BUFFY had to change after season 3 ended, since the gang graduated from high school. The university setting is one of the big changes, but not the only one: Angel and Cordy have moved to LA, so the show will have to establish some new characters (Riley, Professor Walsh) AND reintroduce some old ones (Anya, Spike, Harmony). The beginning of season 4 is, no doubt, an awkward transitional phase - but one that's also absolutely necessary for the show and the characters.
"The Freshman" sets the tone nicely. Buffy's disorientation while wandering the UC Sunnydale campus is probably familiar to many viewers (me included). And Willow takes to college life exactly as you'd expect she would. Giles and Xander, and their newfound aimlessness, are a nice counterpoint, and will be a recurring theme throughout the season. I loved Buffy's line to Giles, after seeing his nearly naked girlfriend Olivia "Because you're very, very old and it's gross." Which led to a moment where I realized that I'm only five years younger now that Anthony Head was when he filmed the scene. Old is so much older now.
"Living Conditions" is a mixed bag. The "I hate my roommate" storyline is a natural one for the show to explore here, and the supernatural element on top of that is a classic BUFFY set-up. There's also a nice misdirection, as the audience thinks the demons are looking for Buffy, and not Kathy. And Kathy's obsession with Cher's "Believe" means that this episode could only have aired in 1999. (He said, a week before he sees Cher in concert.) Not unenjoyable, but a minor episode.
In earlier seasons, episode 3 was the episode in which the season's main story started - both Spike and Faith were introduced in the third episode of their respective seasons. That's not quite what happens here, though this episode does feature the return of Spike, and Anya, and Harmony. It's also a fascinating look at relationships - or, maybe I should say "relationships", since Buffy, Anya, and Harmony learn, in different ways, that Sex Is Complicated. Buffy hooks up with Giant Asshat Parker, who reveals himself to be a Giant Asshat. Anya hooks up with Xander, hoping it's something she just needs to get out of her system, but discovers it's much more than that. And then there's Spike and Harmony.
I'm not sure it's possible for someone to be more different from Drusilla than Harmony is, and I'm sure Spike ended up in a relationship with Harmony just because she was there. There's nice humor in their early scenes - Harmony calling him "Blondie Bear" never fails to make me giggle - but I was surprised at how dark their argument turned. Spike is, essentially, an abusive boyfriend who is continually egged on by Harmony. It would be a lot more uncomfortable if they weren't, literally, soulless monsters.
"The Freshman": B
"Living Conditions": C
"The Harsh Light of Day": A-