Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Buffy Rewatch: Oops

Getting back to the Buffy Rewatch with the final six episodes of season 4.

"You think you know what's to come, what you are. You haven't even begun."

So, yeah. I kinda lost track of the Buffy Rewatch there for a while.

There was some summer travel, but the real distraction was the release of TWIN PEAKS on blu-ray. I bought it the day it came out, and didn't plan to watch it right away. But I popped in the first disc, just to see how gorgeous it looked on blu-ray, and by the time Pete Martell said "She's dead! Wrapped in plastic!", I was completely hooked again. TWIN PEAKS was my first major TV addiction. It aired when I was in high school, a prime period for falling completely in love with its mysteries, its atmosphere, and its incredible "WTF!" moments.

I don't want this to become an essay about TWIN PEAKS (since this is, after all, the Buffy Rewatch), but I had a couple of thoughts about it that link to BUFFY, and link through BUFFY to the current era of television.

It's no secret that TWIN PEAKS lost a lot of steam after the Laura Palmer murder was resolved. Though Mark Frost and David Lynch built a rich world of characters, the problem was that none of the non-Laura stories was compelling. (And rewatching the series this time, I really noticed how just about everything in the first half of the series linked to - or possibly linked to - Laura's murder.) So we were stuck with Nadine's amnesia and super-strength, Ben Horne's civil war nonsense, and James' ridiculous affair with Evelyn. By the end of the second season, with the Windom Earle / Black Lodge storylines, TWIN PEAKS was compelling again; but it was too little, too late.

TWIN PEAKS came at a time when the options for TV series were far fewer. There weren't prestige cable networks with shortened seasons; TV series had the standard 22 episode seasons, and needed premises to sustain stories that could engage audiences for that long. Shows required open premises, not closed ones. Soap operas and medical/legal procedurals much more easily fit the traditional network structure than something like TWIN PEAKS.

So how does this relate to BUFFY? In a lot of ways, BUFFY finds a perfect balance for a network show: serialized storytelling within seasons, while also allowing some glorious stand-alone episodes. The concept of a Hellmouth gives the show lots of flexibility in the type of monsters the Scoobies face, and the structuring of each season around a Big Bad effectively allows the show to reset each season. And even though I'm not a fan of the Big Bad in season 4, that doesn't affect the great premise of the show.

And now to finish up season 4. I don't really have much to say about "Superstar" or "Where The Wild Things Are". "Superstar" is interesting with respect to what's to come, since world-altering is a major part of season 5's premise. And, of course, Jonathan's searching for an easy fix will be a big theme of season 6.

"The Yoko Factor" and "Primeval" bring the story of Adam and The Initiative to a close. And I'm mainly left with a big *shrug* about the whole storyline. If I remember correctly, there were certain casting/availability issues that required some mid-season re-jigging of the Initiative storyline; and that stuff happens on TV. (And also in the opposite direction: Spike becoming a regular character was never in the plans back in season 2.) The only two episodes of season 4's final 6 worth talking about are "New Moon Rising" and "Restless".

Oz, with the werewolf under control, returns to Sunnydale in "New Moon Rising", hoping (expecting?) to reunite with Willow. But Willow, of course, is now secretly dating Tara. "New Moon Rising" manages to pull off the nearly impossible feat of being generous to Willow, Tara, AND Oz. And the way that Oz finds out about Willow and Tara - running into Tara in the hall, saying "You smell like her. She's all over you!", putting the pieces together, then losing control and becoming the werewolf - has lost none of its power in the last 15 years. It's a knockout of an episode.

And then there's "Restless". The end of season 4 ended up being a perfect time for my TWIN PEAKS break, since BUFFY and TWIN PEAKS are two of the modern TV shows with famous dream sequences. (THE SOPRANOS is also on that list.) "Restless" is a state-of-the-union episode in which we (and the spirit of the first Slayer) invade the dreams of Willow, Xander, Giles, and Buffy. The dream sequences are completely different than those in TWIN PEAKS and THE SOPRANOS. Those in TWIN PEAKS are more about mood; those in THE SOPRANOS are more about psychology. The dream sequences here (as written and directed by Joss Whedon) balance the mood and psychology, and give us great indications of where the four core characters are, at this point in their journeys.

Notably: Willow's and Buffy's dreams are the longest, and Giles' is clearly the shortest. (The mentor's role is diminishing!) There are lots of references to previous stories and visuals (Joyce in the wall is a great callback to "School Hard", for example); most famously, we get a reference to Faith's "Counting down from 7-3-0", which remains for me a GREAT foreshadowing/reference to season 5's spectacular finale.

Thinking about BUFFY in relation to TWIN PEAKS, and Whedon's filmography in relation to Lynch's, also had me thinking about great TV direction in relation to great movie direction. But I'm still working through that, and it's something I'll try to get back to, later in the Rewatch.

Still planning/hoping to finish the Buffy Rewatch in 2014. I will, of course, have to pick up the pace for the next 10 weeks - AND try to minimize distractions. (Minimize, not eliminate. I'm trying to be reasonable here.)

"Superstar": C
"Where the Wild Things Are": C
"New Moon Rising": A+
"The Yoko Factor": B-
"Primeval": C
"Restless": A+

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