Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Great Buffy Rewatch: Teacher's Pet, Season 1, Episode 4

So, we move from a really good episode to an episode that is only so-so. A giant praying mantis? Really? But, it does serve as an excellent showcase for the psyche of Xander. Let's get started.

The episode starts in the Bronze. Xander suavely saves Buffy from a vampire, then mounts the stage to play the guitar. Buffy looks on, helpless and adoring.

Suddenly, Xander is awakened from his daydream by his science teacher. None of it was real. Class ends, but Dr. Gregory asks Buffy to stay behind. He knows that she burned down the gym at her old school, but he feels she has potential, and encourages her to try hard. Buffy is touched. Sadly, right after she leaves his classroom, he is killed by an unseen something.

At the real Bronze that night, Xander's manhood is questioned by his class mate, Blayne, who is bragging about his sexual conquests. Xander asks Willow and Buffy to pretend to help him deflect Blayne's criticisms. But as Xander puts his arm around Buffy, she wanders off, having seen Angel in the background. Angel notes she is cold, and gives him his leather jacket. His arm shows the wound from what looks like a huge fork. He then gives Buffy a cryptic warning and disappears.

This is the first time that Xander and Willow see Angel. Xander is a little intimidated.

The next morning, Xander informs Buffy that Dr. Gregory is missing. As they're discussing it, Ms. Natalie French saunters up, exuding sexuality and gazing at all the boys. The boys, including Xander, are appropriately entranced. She asks Xander where Science 109 is, but Xander is tongue-tied; Blayne helpfully escorts her there.

In science glass, Buffy finds Dr. Gregory's glasses, which disturbs her. Ms. French is substituting for Dr. Gregory, and it becomes clear she is obsessed with bugs, finding them noble and beautiful. She focuses on the praying mantis.

In the lunch line, Xander focuses on how much Ms. French is obsessed with him. The gang overhear Blayne brag about his scheduled one-on-one with Ms. French. Meanwhile, Cordelia opens one of the cafeteria refrigerators, and finds the body of Dr. Gregory. His head is missing.

In the library, the gang and Giles discuss what could have happened to Dr. Gregory. Giles is able to tell the group about the mysterious vampire Angel warned Buffy about - apparently a vampire who had displeased the Master and had his hand cut off. However, Dr. Gregory's body was not drained of blood.

Buffy is patrolling in Sunnydale at night, interrupted by a homeless man who warns her about how dangerous it is. Buffy finds a small storm drain where apparently the de-armed vampire lives - he has replaced his missing hand with three sharp claws. They fight unconclusively, but are disrupted by the homeless men who are actually undercover cops. Shaking them off, the vampire finds another victim - Ms. French. But, sniffing her, he turns tail and runs, obviously terrified.

Buffy tells Giles about it the next morning. Giles suggests Buffy keep a close eye on Ms. French. But on the way to class, Buffy is waylaid by Principal Flutie, who insists that Buffy needs to speak with a counselor since she saw the body of Dr. Gregory. Buffy overhears Cordelia talking with the counselor.

Buffy runs to science class, and sees that Ms. French has given the students a pop quiz. She notes Blayne is absent, and sees Ms. French draping herself over Xander. Somehow, Ms. French turns her head around 180 degrees, which is creepy (I really wish I could have found a picture of that online!).

In the library, Buffy tells Giles and Willow what they saw. Buffy hypothesizes that Ms. French is perhaps some kind of an insect. She looks for a book on bugs.

Xander shows up for his one-on-one with Ms. French, but she reschedules for that evening at her home. Xander is understandably excited. When Xander leaves the room, she prepares her sandwich - with crickets. Yuck.

Back in the library, Buffy theorizes that Ms. French is somehow a praying mantis, since they are the only creatures that can turn their heads like that. Willow discovers that Blayne never returned home last night. Giles agrees to call a friend from Oxford who studied entomology and mythology.

Buffy runs into Xander. She tries to warn Xander that Ms. French is an insect, but Xander is incensed.

Later that evening, Xander shows up at Ms. French's home. She is wearing a low-cut dress. She serves him a martini. Xander becomes woozy, and admits to Ms. French that he loves Buffy. Ms. French turns into a praying mantis, and Xander passes out from the drug in his drink.

At the library, it turns out that a female praying mantis rips off the head of her mate while they're...mating.

Xander wakes up in a cage, and finds Blayne in a cage next to him. Blayne warns Xander about what happens when she mates - she does rip the head off the poor sap.

Back in the library, Giles gets off the phone with his friend. It turns out the "She-Mantis" turns herself into a beautiful woman to lure innocent virgins to her nest. Willow tries to call Xander, but finds out he left for Ms. French's home already. The best way to kill a She-Mantis is by cleaving her with a sharp blade. Buffy also suggests using a bat sonar, which she believes will immobilize the mantis. Willow finds Ms. French's address, and her birthday - she's in her nineties. Indeed, upon arriving, they find an elderly Ms. French, She used to be a teacher.

In the cellar, the She-Mantis approaches the two cages, and appears to use eenie, meenie, miney, moe to select her next mate. Xander "wins".  She binds him up and lays her eggs.

Helpless, Buffy decides to use "fork-hand" vampire to locate Ms. French, so she goes down the storm drain and finds him. Bound, the vampire finally cringes at one house, just in time to escape. But that's okay, Buffy dusts him.

The gang run into the basement to find the She-Mantis approaching Xander, ready to mate. Buffy kills the Mantis, and, while Xander and Blayne are glad to be freed, they are both horrified when Willow reveals that both are virgins. Xander takes Buffy's blade and destroys the egg sacs.

The episode ends in science class, with the new teacher droning on. In the closet, hanging from a shelf is a glistening egg sack that moves and cracks. The episode ends.

What do I think? Well, the horror movie serving as a metaphor for the predatory behavior of an older woman with children is especially prescient with the number of teachers who have affairs with their charges. Granted, this particular teacher would end up killing her virgin mates, but otherwise, I think Xander's response is spot on. Of course he'd be attracted, especially given his frustrated attempts to secure the affections of Buffy. Finding out he was destined to be bug food and the father of more bugs, the episode ends with him destroying all his progeny in rage.

A lot of people online have expressed frustration that the show ended with the egg sacs in the classroom, a menace that was never mentioned again. I don't mind. It felt very Twilight Zone to me. Maybe they took years to mature, and were destroyed when the high school blew up? That's my theory.

Best Quotes:

Xander (in response to an insult from Blayne): Something really cutting.  (to Willow) Sometimes I just go with the generic insult.
Willow: Why pay more for the brand name?

Xander (about Angel): Well, he's buff. She never said anything about him being buff.
Willow: You think he's buff?
Xander: He's a very attractive man! How come that never came up?

Ms. French (to Xander): Could you help me?
Xander: Egguh - yes.
Ms. French: I'm looking for Science 109.
Xander: Sure. It's...uh..I go there everyday - oh, god, where is it?
Xander (after Blayne takes over, walking away with Ms. French): Funny how the earth never opens up and swallows you when you want it to.

Xander: You two might be a little young to understand what an older woman sees in a younger man.
Buffy: Oh, I understand.
Xander: Good.
Buffy: A younger man is too dumb to wonder why an older woman can't find someone her own age and too desperate to care about the surgical improvements.
Xander: I'm not too dumb to....what surgical improvements?
Willow: Well, he is young.
Buffy: And so terrible innocent.
Xander: Those who can, do. Those who can't laugh at those who...can do.

Principal Flutie (escorting Buffy to the counselor): We all need help with our feelings, otherwise we bottle them up, and before you know it powerful laxatives are involved. I really believe if we all reach out to one another we can beat this thing. I'm always here is you need a hug - but not a real hug, there's no touching in this school, we're sensitive to wrong touching.

Cordelia: was...let's just say I haven't been able to eat a thing since yesterday...I think I lost like seven and a half ounces - way swifter than the so-called diet that quack put me on...I'm not saying we should kill a teacher everyday just so I can lose weight, I'm just saying when tragedy strikes, we have to look on  the bright side- you know, like how even a used Mercedes still has leather seats.

Giles: I had a chum at Oxford, Carlyle, advanced degrees in entomology and mythology...
Buffy: Whosy and whatsy?
Giles: Bugs and fairy tales.
Buffy: I knew that.

Giles: This computer invasion Willow's performing on the Coroner's assumes it's entirely legal?
Buffy and Willow simultaneously: Of course - entirely.
Giles: So I wasn't here, didn't see it, couldn't have stopped it.

Xander (after Buffy informs him Ms. French is a mantis): It's not weird, it's perfectly understandable. I've met someone, you're jealous.
Buffy: I'm not jealous..
Xander: Nothing I could do about it. There's just a certain chemcial thing between Ms. French and me.
Buffy: I know, I just read about it, it's called, uh, a pheromone, this chemical attractant insects give off.
Xander: SHE'S NOT AN INSECT - OK!? She's a woman. Hard as it may be for you to conceive, a human woman finds me attractive. I realzie she's no mystery guy handinhg out leather jackets - and while we're on the subject, what kinda girly-name is Angel, anyway?
Buffy: What's that got to do with...
Xander: Nothing! It just bugs me!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Kick-Ass Women: Lt. Uhura

I can't remember a time when I didn't watch Star Trek. My first memory of television was an episode (and no, I've no idea which one). One of my favorite characters was Lt. Uhura. And why wouldn't she be? Granted, she technically was the telephone operator, but otherwise, she was the epitome of the kind of woman I aspired to be. She was beautiful, good at her job, and had a full life.  She was an accomplished singer and seemed to love life. Even more importantly, unlike those two blond women, she didn't pine after any of the men on the show (I have decided that the William Shatner-directed Star Trek V in which Uhura announced to Scotty she had always loved him doesn't really exist). She was a woman who had a career and a life, and stood on her own two feet. She didn't need a man to define her. Which, if you think about it, is what we all. 

And for years, the real reason I wore hoop earrings is because I wanted to be as much like Uhura as I could. 

Uhura was the only woman on Star Trek I admired. The show was produced in the 1960s, and despite its creator's progressive attitudes (Star Trek had one of the most diverse casts at the time) women were mostly seen through the prism of the men around them, caring and loving them, sex objects, and almost always scantily clad. Gene Roddenberry recognized the plight of women, however, as evidenced by the last episode ever, the horrible Turnabout Intruder.  Even in Roddenberry's utopia, women were prohibited from captaining starships. Janice Lester was a classmate of Kirk's, and just as talented, but the Federation's refusal to promote her drove her insane. The only way she could become captain was to use advanced technology to change bodies with Kirk.  But because of her gender or impaired mental health (or her lack of experience, to be fair), she was clearly incapable of leading. Spock eventually figured it out, bodies were switched, and everyone felt sorry for the poor woman whose ambitions were frustrated by her gender. It was a terrible end to a great show. 

This series comes as a result of my discovery of Starbuck on the Battlestar Galactica reboot. As I loudly pronounced at the time, Starbuck was easily one of my favorite characters ever. The fact that she was female was perhaps the best part - otherwise Starbuck would have been just another cliche. As I bought about Starbuck, I thought about all the other kick-ass female characters I've loved through the years. I decided to start with the original. 

Who are your favorite kick-ass women?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Great Buffy Rewatch: The Witch, Season 1, Episode 3

This is the first episode following the pilot, and no vampires, none. Not even Angel (boo). Indeed, the "big bad" of the episode is not a monster but a parent, the very person who is supposed to cherish and protect her children. Let's proceed.

The episode starts with a greatly agitated Giles, outraged that Buffy, chosen to vanquish vampires, choses to engage in something as banal as cheerleading. Buffy points out that Giles can't stop her, especially as she wants to do something normal Famous last words.

Giles may not approve of Buffy trying out for the squad, but Willow and Xander willingly accompany her to the gym. Xander awkwardly offers Buffy an I.D. bracelet that's inscribed "Yours always". He quickly claims all the bracelets had the same inscription.

As the tryouts begin, Willow greets Amy, who is clearly anxious about the audition. As they watch, the first would-be cheerleader breaks out into flames. Buffy quickly douses her. The girl had been talented, but no way she would be on the squad now. By the way, the use of a body double for Amber, the girl on fire, is pretty obvious. 

The team gathers in the library to discuss what happened. Deciding vampires are not involved, Willow decides to hack the school systems and Xander will ask around about the charred cheerleader.

Buffy goes home to find her mother preoccupied with her first deliveries for the gallery she will be opening. Joyce can't even remember what Buffy is trying out for. Upon being reminded, Joyce remarks Buffy quit cheerleading right before she started getting into trouble. Buffy mentions that Amy's mother trains with Amy hours everyday. Joyce comments that Amy's mom clearly doesn't have much to do.

Back at school the next day, the auditions have resumed, and Buffy, Cordelia, and Amy are in the first group performance audition. Amy starts out strong, but eventually misses a few moves and crashes into Cordelia.

Buffy catches up to Amy in front of the trophy case. Amy tells Buffy about her mother, the former head cheerleader who took her squad to the tri-county tournament. Mom was the Homecoming Queen who married the Homecoming King. But sadly, her high school days were her best years, and the King left his family for "Miss Trailer Trash". Buffy tries to encourage Amy, but Amy clearly is under a lot of pressure by her mother.

Cordelia threatens Amy in the locker room.

The list is posted. Cordelia has made the team, but Buffy and Amy are alternatives. They explain to Xander that being an alternative means they are only on the team if one of the cheerleaders on the team drops out.

We then watch a witch intone a spell. We can see she is casting a spell on Cordelia.

Buffy's at home, and her mother is clearly trying to reconnect. When Joyce suggests Buffy join the yearbook staff, Buffy tells her its not her thing. Joyce gets angry, telling Buffy that Buffy's "thing" got her kicked out of school, requiring them to move to Sunnydale as it was the only decent school that would take her. Buffy is hurt and leaves.

As Xander tries to gather his courage to ask Buffy out, Buffy notes that Cordelia doesn't seem right. She follows Cordelia who gets in the driver's seat in driver's ed. (Why are other students in the car?) Anyway, Cordelia loses control. When she gets out of the car, she wanders into the road. Buffy saves her from an on-coming truck. But Cordelia can't see anything - her eyes are covered up by a murky film.

Giles declares witchcraft is involved. Amy is the first suspect. Giles is surprised that someone with power would be willing to use it to become a cheerleader, but Buffy points out the pressure that Amy's under from her mother to be a cheerleader. They decide to use a test to determine whether Amy really is the witch.

Xander, Willow, and Buffy decide to try the test during chemistry class. The test is positive - Amy's a witch. But at the same time, one of the other cheerleaders in class suddenly loses her mouth. Everyone is shocked, even Amy. Perhaps she doesn't know what she's doing?

Amy is walking home. Entering her surprisingly nice home, she seems to change. She mocks her mother for watching television all day. She orders her mother to write her history report, then notes that Buffy stole her hair. She dangles the bracelet that Xander had given Buffy.

The next morning, Buffy wakes up in an extremely good mood. She's singing and bouncy. When Joyce tries to apologize for her words yesterday, Buffy waves it away. She tells her mother that it's hard for people to understand about the whole vampire slayer thing. She somehow escapes without revealing too much more and her mother's just confused.

At cheerleading practice, Buffy is still verbose - loud and clumsy. She finally flips a girl too far. She's kicked off the team, and Amy's made a cheerleader. Xander and Willow get Buffy out of practice and take her to the library.

Giles diagnoses Buffy as afflicted with a Bloodstone Vengeance. Apparently it makes you feel exceedingly drunk, then shuts your immune system down. Whoever cast the spell wants Buffy dead. Giles and Buffy will go to Amy's house to talk to her mother, while Xander and Willow will keep an eye on Amy.

Giles's car is a piece of crap. I don't believe it's the same one he drives later. Giles confronts Catherine, Amy's mother, but Buffy, clearly dying, realizes the woman is really Amy, that Amy and her mother have switched places. This apparently occurred a couple of months ago. Amy-Catherine shows Giles the attic where her mother works her spells. He finds what he needs and the three go to school.

Catherine-Amy is cheering with the rest of the squad, very ecstatic, with Xander and Willow looking on. Giles, Amy-Catherine, and Buffy are in the chemistry lab. Giles starts spells. As the spell starts working, Catherine-Amy realizes what is going on, and, furious, heads to the lab. Xander and Willow try to delay her, but Catherine-Amy uses her magic to fend them off.

Chaos seems to ensue when Catherine-Amy arrives. The two are switched into their proper bodies, and Catherine is furous at her daughter, berating her for causing her nothing but trouble. She then starts to cast what looks like a particularly nasty spell. Buffy interferes, and somehow blocks the spell, reflecting it back on Catherine. With that, Catherine is gone.

Buffy's back at her home. Joyce acknowledges that she just doesn't understand Buffy and has no clue what she's thinking. It's a biological imperative that she can't understand her sixteen year old daughter. Buffy asks Joyce if she'd ever want to be sixteen again. Joyce says no, not even to understand Buffy. Buffy is pleased and declares she loves her mother. Who continues to be confused.

Buffy and Amy are talking in the halls. Amy is describing her life with her newly returned father; she's clearly very happy. No one has seen Catherine since the spell. They're confident they will never have to worry about her again.

We see the trophy from the cheerleading championship. It then becomes clear that Catherine is stuck inside the trophy.

My thoughts watching this: Instead of monstrous vampires outside the house, this episode focuses on the monsters inside the home. Catherine took everything from her daughter - her body, her dreams, her autonomy. Contrast her with Joyce, also disappointed in her daughter, but who struggles to understand and accept Buffy as she is.

We also get to see Xander's unrequited attraction for Buffy and his bumbling attempts to connect. In the background is Willow, the good friend, who clearly has some unrequited feelings herself. It's sweet.

The characterization of Catherine-as-Amy seems off to me. At one point, Amy describes how great her mother is to help her train for the auditions. But later she tells Buffy about the pressure she's under from her mother. And why did this great former cheerleader who's been in Amy's body for months have such a hard time with auditions? Surely she should have gotten used to Amy's body in that amount of time. 

That said, this episode builds in the promise introduced in the pilot, further developing a world where the bad guy might be a neighbor, not just a monster. The relationships building among the characters is also progressing. Already, the personalities of the characters are pretty well-established. A great chapter. 

What we learned about Buffy: Buffy's parents are divorced, something hinted at before, but now made clear.

Best quotes:

Xander: Oooh, where was I?
Willow: You were pretending that seeing scantily-clad girls in revealing postures was a spiritual experience.
Xander: What do you mean, pretending?

 Willow: That girl's on fire!
Cordelia: Enough with the hyperbole!

Giles: Well, that is the thrill of living on the hellmouth - one has a veritable cornucopia of fiends, devils and ghouls to engage...Pardon me for finding the glass half full.

Xander: I laugh in the face of danger. Then I hide til it goes away.

Willow: Average student - got detention once for smoking - regular smoking, with a cigarette. Not being smoky.

Buffy: Mom, I accepted that you've had sex. I'm not ready to accept that you've had Farrah hair.
Joyce: This is Gidget hair. Don't they teach you anything in history?

Giles: Why would someone want to harm Cordelia?
Willow: Maybe because...they met her. Did I say that?

Xander [upon Willow announcing that Xander has checked out a number of books on witchcraft]: All right, all right. It's not what you think.
Willow: You like to look at the semi-nude engravings?
Xander: Oh. Well, then, it is what you think.

Giles: I think all the spells were reversed. Of course, it's my first casting. I may have got it wrong.
Buffy: You saved me. You were a god.
Giles: One doesn't want to be immodest, but I am not unsatisfied.
Buffy: Giles, stop being so proper. You're in America. Brag.

Cordelia: Hey, I'm really sorry you guys got bumped back to alternate. Hold it - wait - no, I'm not.
Amy: Well, I know I'll miss the intellectual thrill of spelling words out with my arms.
Cordelia: Ooh, these grapes are sour.

Buffyverse fan alert: Sarah Michelle Geller's comedy, The Crazy Ones, has been cancelled. Meanwhile, Alyson Hannigan has just finished her run in How I Met Your Mother and is set to co-star in More Time with Family

Monday, April 14, 2014

Game of Thrones

If you've not seen the 13 April 2014 episode of the Game of Thrones, step away from the computer, and all of social media, for you will be spoiled. 

The irony is that I just had to delete an entire draft of a post about Game of Thrones I had written last week; I had not gotten an opportunity to edit it. It was a dull affair, which is one reason why I delayed looking at it. But there's no way I could post that generic article on the parts of Game of Thrones I love. Not after watching Episode 2 of Season Four.

He's not merely dead; he's really most sincerely dead.

Yes, Joffrey finally bit the big one last night, poisoned at his own wedding feast. And the internet exploded.

Let's face it. It was bound to happen. And not just because he was the most reviled character in Game of Thrones (if not ever), but because the society in which he lived would not long tolerate this brutal boy's oppression. He was sadistic, cruel, mercurial, and capricious. His mother taught him that he was the center of the universe and that once he was king he could do whatever he liked. How shocked she was when he did just that, exactly what he wanted.

You can find other websites that will list this boy's crimes (and they were many), but any who watched this show recognized that Joffrey was a poison in Westeros, who could only cause harm. How convenient then, that he should be poisoned?

Ironically, however, his kingdom had experienced a brief period of peace following the death of Robb Stark, the erstwhile King of the North. Joffrey's death may throw the kingdom in further chaos, as presumably his younger brother will succeed him. Whether the boy is a minor or not, Tywin Lannister will retain his grip on the throne, but don't forget about Stannis Baratheon, who believes himself the lawful king, given that neither Joffrey nor his surviving siblings were in reality the children of the recently deceased Robert Baratheon. 

Stannis will be further emboldened, as this is the second king to die following Melisandre's spell with Gendry's blood-filled leaches. Surely, the God of Lights does want him to be king? Will that make the three souls who were burned at the stake for heresy rest easier?

Joffrey's death has a number of implications for other characters, especially fan favorite, Tyrion.

Yes, Joffrey's last act, literally, was to point to his hated uncle, giving the impression Tyrion poisoned Joffrey. And who would have blamed Tyrion if he had? Joffrey had spent his last five minutes before choking to death tormenting his uncle, pouring wine on him, mocking him with a spectacle of dwarfs playing out Joffrey's victory over the other contenders to the throne, and forcing Tyrion to be his cupbearer, an honor that was not intended to be an honor. Joffrey wouldn't even let Tyrion leave gracefully. 

So it was Tyrion who poured out Joffrey's last goblet of wine, getting a serious look from the Queen of Thrones as he did so. Presumably, it was the wine, and not the cake (which the camera did linger on) that poisoned Joffrey, and since Tyrion gave it to him, it must be Tyrion who poisoned the King. Cersei has long hated her brother, and is more than willing to believe that he would do such a vile thing.

I know I love Tyrion, but I don't think I'm biased in asserting that there is no way Tyrion poisoned his nephew. Of all the players in the Game of Thrones, Tyrion is smart enough to know that he would be the first suspect if Joffrey were poisoned. And no matter how humiliated he may have been by Joffrey, Tyrion seemed to buy the family line of supporting the little bastard. Besides, why poison Joffrey when he could have escaped with Shae? It just doesn't make sense.

The other character most affected is the widow, Margaery Tyrell. I'm afraid her dreams of being Queen may be over, now that not one but two of her grooms have died before the marriages could be consummated. It is possible that Tywin will try to arrange for Margaery to marry Joffrey's brother, a marriage I presume she'll agree to. 

And let's not forget the bereaved mother. I believe it is possible that Cersei is a more hateful a human being than her son. They are both alike in a lot of ways, and, as much as I don't believe in blaming the mother, she bears much blame her in raising her tyrannical heartless son.  Cersei was quite surprised to find that once her son became King he not only no longer relied upon her for advice, but also appeared to despise her. Her precious boy turned into a viper at her breast. But she still dearly loved her son, and her grief will be real and protracted. If she emerges, her memories of Joffrey will be as she wanted him to be, not as he really was.  In the meantime, watch out Tyrion. In her mind, you murdered her baby.

So, if I don't think Tyrion killed his nephew, who do I think did so? Well, I've two candidates right now. 

Olenna Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns, gave Tyrion what now seems to be a very significant look when he filled Joffrey's last of wine. At first, I thought it was sympathy for the humiliation that Joffrey had heaped on his uncle. But I also remember her giving her condolences to Sansa about Robb, commenting on how awful to be killed at a wedding feast. Could she have done this? And will her having committed this murder affect how I feel about her? Of course not! I adore this character. She is never less than thoroughly entertaining.

My other candidate is Dontos Holland, the one-time knight turned jester. He certainly appeared at Sansa's side awfully quickly. Her certainly has reason to hate Joffrey, as he so helpfully reminded us in the first episode of the season. 

I don't know if we'll find out who killed Joffrey, for that matters less than on what people think happened, and on the machinations of the survivors to win at the game of thrones. All I do know is that I'll be watching, eager to see what happens next. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Great Buffy Rewatch: The Harvest, S. 1, E. 2

This episode finishes what Welcome to the Hellmouth started. Which is good, because things weren't looking so good for our new heroes.

Where's Jesse?

Luke's on Buffy, but while attacking her he screams. The cross Angel had given her burns his hand. This gives her time to escape. She finds Willow and Xander, and rescues them from the vampires who were taking off with them. She manages to dust one, but the others escape. That's when they realize that Jesse is missing.

The next scene shows Xander and Willow with Giles and Buffy in the library. Giles explains about demons and how vampires were created. Xander and Willow are understandably disturbed.

Jesse looks more confused than scared.

We then go underground where Jesse is brought to the Master. The Master notes that someone has "tasted" Jesse. Darla begs forgiveness, bringing up that they had more "offerings", but "there was trouble. A girl." Luke and the Master supposed the girl was a Slayer.

Back in the library, Buffy reveals her plan to find Jesse, on the chance that he might be alive. They realize that the vampires might be nesting in the electric tunnels that run under the town, but they don't have time to find the diagnostics, until Willow interrupts...

Under the town, Luke and the Master decide to use Jesse as bait.

Back in the library, Willow demonstrates her hacking skills, bringing up the diagnostics to the electric tunnels. Buffy then realizes that there's access to the tunnels in the mausoleum. Xander volunteers to go with her, but she refuses, reminding him that she's the Slayer. Willow offers to help, and Giles asks for help in researching the Harvest.

Principal Flutie finds Buffy at the gate, trying to leave the school grounds. Although she protests that Giles was sending her for a book, he shuts and locks the gate. That doesn't stop a Slayer, however, as she jumps over the fence.

He's scared.

Buffy's in the mausoleum when she realizes Angel is behind her. He reveals that the Master's group doesn't like him, and finally shares with Buffy his name. He warns her to not go, as the Harvest is tonight and only Buffy can prevent it. He also acknowledges that he's afraid of the Harvest.

Buffy's in the tunnels when she's joined by Xander, who refuses to leave. Buffy accepts.

Giles figures out the Harvest and that it will be tonight.

Willow, Cordelia, and Harmony are in computer class, developing programs. Cordelia and Harmony are struggling through their work, while talking about their evening plans. They're going to the Bronze.

In the tunnels, Xander quizzes Buffy about how to slay vampires.

Back in the computer lab, Cordelia tells Harmony about Buffy's attempt to stake her. Willow interrupts, drawing Cordelia's ire. She suggests that Cordelia save her program by pressing "Deliver". You know, the key marked "DEL".

Too late! 

Back in the tunnels, Buffy and Xander find Jesse. Jesse leads them through the tunnels, finally leading them to a closed room. Jesse then reveals his vampire face. Xander is sad, but Jesse's not: "I feel good, Xander. I feel strong." Xander uses the cross to prevent Jesse from getting closer to him. More vampires are coming. Xander and Buffy somehow escape.

Willow joins Giles in the library. Willow tells Giles that in 1937 there were several months of murders that could have been perpetuated by vampires. This was stopped following an earthquake.

Luke and the Master are engaging in a vampiric rite. The Master announces that every soul Luke, now called the Vessel, takes will strengthen the Master.

Can you see what's on his forehead?

Buffy and Xander return to the library, sharing the news with Giles and Willow about Jesse. Giles reveals that the end of the world is upon them. In 1937, a very old and powerful vampire came to Sunnydale, called by the Spanish Boca del Infierno - roughly, the Hellmouth. It is a portal from this reality to the next, and the vampire hoped to open the door and bring the demons back. However, the earthquake buried half the town and the vampire, preventing him from following up on his plans. Giles then describes the Harvest, in which the Master draws power from one of his minions to break free and to open the portal. The Vessel, as the minion is called, will wear a specific symbol.  That vampire needs to be killed before the Master gathers enough power.

Joyce finally puts her foot down.

Buffy goes home to get supplies. While she's digging through her trunk, her mother comes in, concerned. Buffy' second day at school and she's already missing classes.  Buffy says she has to go, but Joyce says no, grounding Buffy. Buffy waits for her mom to leave, then leaves with her bag of tricks though the window.

Just this once.

Cordelia's at the Bronze with her friends, talking about the value in dating seniors (cars), when they decide to dance. Jesse watches her. Outside the Bronze, we see a number of vampires approaching, Darla skipping in front, Luke in the midst of them. Inside , Cordelia is heading to her seat when Jesse approaches her, and, despite her weak protestations, they dance. The vampires come in and block the exits. 

Darla turns out the lights, and Luke takes the stage. Cordelia sees that Jesse's face has changed. Luke tells the crowd that they will have a glorious death, then eats the bouncer. Meanwhile, we see that the Master is getting stronger, and the barrier that hems him in is weaker.

The Harvest is working.

Buffy and the gang find the doors locked. She sends the others to the back door with her bag of tricks while she gets in through an upstairs window. She notes the symbol on Luke's forehead. Luke has finished with his second victim when Darla brings him Cordelia. Buffy throws the vampire who is supposed to have guarded the window down to the first floor, interrupting the proceedings before Cordelia is bitten. 

Buffy dusts a vampire and she and Luke proceed to fight. Xander, Willow, and Giles make it inside, and start herding people out. Buffy sees a vampire going for Xander, so she throws a cymbal, decapitating the vampire. Jesse takes the opportunity to grab Cordelia. Xander, hearing her scream, confronts him. 

Buffy is still fighting Luke when Giles is jumped by Darla. Willow douses Darla in the face with holy water. Darla runs out, screaming in agony. Jesse is belittling Xander when a woman knocks him onto Xander's stake. Stabbed in the heart, Jesse turns to dust. Xander is grabbed by two other vampires. 

It's too early for sunrise, you moron.

Buffy somehow tricks Luke into thinking that it's sunrise, bursting a window so that light streams on him. Luke is surprised when he isn't burned by the sun but it's too late. Buffy stakes Luke, and he's dusted. We see the Master, as he realizes his plan failed. 

Do you really want to mess with me?

Xander is struggling with the two vampires holding him. Buffy looks up at them, in one of the most iconic images of the show, and the vampires scamper away. The gang gathers, and Xander notes that nothing will be the same 

Nothing's changed.

And yet, the next day, everything is the same. Cordelia is overheard telling a friend that the incident involved a rival gang, a gang that Buffy knew. Xander is in disbelief, but Buffy says she's seen it before. Giles reminds the gang that this is just the beginning, and that they may face worse than vampires. 

About the Episode

My thoughts: High school is literally hell here in Sunnydale. For most people, getting out of high school with your psyche relatively intact is the goal. But for our heroes, getting out alive becomes the challenge. It's the first example we have where Buffy saves the world (or at least, Sunnydale) in front of vast numbers of witnesses, but no one seems to remember it. The show implies it is not a magical spell but our own human nature protecting us from the horrors of the supernatural.

Several themes that run through the show are introduced, including Joyce's uninformed perspective on Buffy's behavior. To her, Buffy is acting like a typical sixteen year old who believes the world will end if she doesn't go out. And of course grounding Buffy is the logical response to a daughter who skips class. Lying to your mom is just one of the things you have to do when you have a secret identity to protect. 

Jesse is the first of many reminders that no one is really safe. Joss Wedon had hoped to put Eric Balfour's name in the main credits, but didn't have the money for the ink. It certainly would have made his demise more heartbreaking. A it was, we barely knew him, and Xander's attachment to him was only slightly established. I feel sad he didn't make it, but I wasn't devastated. Other losses will affect me much more. Just wait. 

What we learn about vampires: The first vampire was created when the last Old One, or Demon, fed off a human and mixed their blood. What was left was a human who was possessed or infected by the Demon's soul. Many vampires are waiting for the Old Ones to return. They can be killed by a stake through the heart or beheading. They also don't like crosses, holy water or garlic. Crosses and holy water burn their skin. We also learn that it takes no time to turn a human into a vampire (that changes in Angel; some theorized the Master turned Jesse.). 

What we learned about Sunnydale: The Spanish learned of it's mystical convergence whatevers. The Master must have known of it too, as he came to the town in 1937. However, as he was trying to open the Hellmouth, there was an earthquake, that his actions may have caused. He has been crippled since.

Body Count: Humans - 3; Vampires - 5. Jesse is represented in both numbers. 

What we learned about our characters: We see the Scooby Team roles solidify. Giles and Willow research, Buffy slays, and Xander tags along. We also see Willow exact some revenge for the cruelty suffered at the hands of Cordelia. Go girl! We learn Angel's name and that he is acquainted with the Master. We first meet Harmony, too, as one of Cordelia's followers. 


Giles: This world is older than any of you know, and contrary to popular mythology, it did not begin as a paradise. For untold eons, Demons walked the earth; made it their home... their Hell.  In time they lost their purchase on this reality, and the way was made for the mortal animals. For Man. What remains of the Old Ones are vestiges: Certain magicks, certain creatures... The books tell that the last Demon to leave this reality fed off a human, mixed their blood. He was a human form possessed -- infected -- by the Demon's soul. He bit another, and another... and so they walk the earth, feeding. Killing some, mixing their blood with others to make more of their kind. Waiting for the animals to die out, and the Old Ones to return.

Xander: Okay, this is where I have a problem, see, because we're now talking about vampires. We're having a talk with vampires in it.

Giles: All right: They hunt vampires, one Slayer dies, the next is called, Buffy is the Slayer, don't tell anyone. I think that's all the vampire information you need.

Giles: So all the city plans are just open to the public?
Willow: Uh, well, in a way. I sort of stumbled onto them when I accidentally... decrypted the city council's security system.
Xander: Someone's been naughty...

Xander (to Jesse): It's cool! Buffy's a superhero!

Xander: I don't like vampires. I'm gonna take a stand and say they're not good.

Joyce: I know. You have to go out or it'll be the end of the world. Everything is life or death when you're a sixteen year old girl. 

Luke: Ladies and gentlemen, there's no cause for alarm. Actually there is cause for alarm. It just won't do any good. 

Xander (as Buffy decapitates the vampire who was about to pounce): Heads up.

Buffy: Well, we averted the apocalypse. You gotta give us points for that. 

Buffy: Well, I gotta look on the bright side. Maybe I can still get kicked out of school. 
Xander: Hey, that's a plan. 'Cause a lot of schools aren't on the Hellmouth. 
Willow: Maybe you could blow something up. They're really strict about that. 
Buffy: I was aiming on a subtle approach.  Like excessive not studying. 
Giles (to himself):  The earth is doomed. 

Bones Fan Alert: There are no real guest stars different from Welcome to the Hellmouth, so I'll write about one who started as a guest star, became a full-fledged cast member, and then headline his own show. Prior to his role as Angel, David Boreanaz's biggest role was as Kelly's cheating boyfriend on Married With Children. Shortly after Angel ended, he took on the role of Seeley Booth, opposite Emily Deschanel's Temperance "Bones" Brennan. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Great Buffy Rewatch: Welcome to the Hellmouth, S. 1, E. 1

One of my goals since getting a DVD player (Blu-Ray) and Netflix is the opportunity to rewatch some of my favorite shows, such as Buffy. I should start with my first favorite show, Star Trek, but I'm confident that I can watch that with my children relatively soon. However, I'm pretty that the mature subject matter of Buffy means that I won't be able to watch that with them until at least a decade from now. 

Buffy is the first show after Star Trek that taught me what television could be. And I almost missed it. The title alone is not just a mouthful, but implies a bubbly cheerleader who must happens to slay vampires. It doesn't help that the show was preceded by a movie that received mixed reviews. It didn't sound promising and I had no interest. 

But there must not have been a whole lot on on Mondays, so I ended up watching a few episodes. To my surprise, I liked it. Then I moved to Illinois to live with my best friend. It turns out Buffy was her favorite show. Together we watched the fabulous second season, and I was quickly hooked. 

Why did Buffy make such an impression on me? Well, there's the snappy dialogue, the sharp acting, the mythology. But I think there's more to it, which I hope to explore further during the Great Buffy Rewatch. 

Let's get to it. 

Welcome to the Hellmouth Recap

The show opens at night in a dark high school, one which looks very similar to the one in Beverly Hill 90210 (because it is!). The music is eerie and suspenseful, and a sense of foreboding fills the air. The silence is broken by glass breaking. A former student has brought a naive young girl, supposedly to show her the view from the gym roof.

But she's skittish, and thinks she hears a sound. He soothes her, telling her it will all be alright. Yet, it's clear his plans for her are not in her best interest. She finally says she feels safe. Then it all changes. 

Because the boy is not the monster. The girl is. 

Next morning, a teenage girl is in bed, having a nightmare. She wakes up to a sense of foreboding. It turns out, she's Buffy Summers, and today is her first day of school at Sunnydale High School. Her mother asks her to try not to get kicked out of school. As she walks up the stairs, we meet Xander, who is doing a fine job swerving around the obstacles on his skateboard, until he spots Buffy.

We meet Willow, too. It's clear the two have been friends for a long time. Xander needs her help with math. They agree to meet in the library. 

Buffy meets Principal Flutie, who tears up her transcript. But something catches his eye, and she's then horrified to see him tape it up. Although he's still talking clean slate, he discusses her colorful transcript. It turns out she burned down the high school gym. She protests that he doesn't understand. The gym was full of vampires....asbestos. Oops. 

Buffy bumps into someone when she leaves Flutie's office, and the contents of her bag spill. Xander approaches and helps her gather her belongings. He tries to be witty, but utterly fails. Buffy walks off, leaving behind something. 

Buffy's in history class, and the teacher instructs the students to look at their text books. A surprisingly helpful Cordelia shares hers with Buffy, then offers to escort her to the library where she can find her own textbooks. On the way, Cordelia quizzes Buffy to determine her coolness factor. Buffy passes when she declares that John Tesh is the devil. 

On the way to the library, they run into Willow. Cordelia belittles Willow, telling Buffy that if she wants to succeed at school she needs to know her losers. She invites Buffy to the Bronze. Buffy watches Willow scurry away. 

Buffy meets Giles. When she mentions her name, he says he has just the book she needs. He pulls out an ancient tome titled "Vampyr", the same book she saw in her nightmare. She runs out of the library. 

The young man from the opening scene is found, quite dead. 

Buffy finds Willow at lunch. Willow expects to be bullied, but is pleased that Buffy wants to talk with her. Buffy asks about Giles. Willow reveals he's new, and that she thinks he's cool. 

Xander and Jesse join them, allowing Xander to return Buffy's stake. She explains that everyone in LA has one.  Cordelia comes up, stating she doesn't "want to interrupt your downward mobility", but gym has been canceled because of the corpse found in the locker room. Buffy's interest in this disturbs Cordelia. 

Buffy breaks into the locker room area and finds that the body indeed has two puncture wounds in the neck. She's angry, as she recognizes a vampire bite.She marches to the library to confront Giles. She tells him about the boy, then remarks that she doesn't care. But she stays, and Giles asks her questions about the body. She is angry, deflecting the conversation. She announces that she is the Slayer, and he announces he is her Watcher. But she says she's retired. Giles tells her that things are getting worse, and feels that there are signs of a "crucial mystical upheaval". Frustrated, they leave together. 

It turns out Xander is in the library, having heard the entire conversation.

Now we're underneath Sunnydale, and hear a voice intoning. It is a large vampire with a deep voice. He chants, "The sleeper will awaken. And the world will bleed. Amen."  

Buffy's trying to pick an outfit for the Bronze when her mother comes in. They talk a little, somewhat uncomfortably. Buffy agrees that all their problems are behind her, "I'm only hanging out with the living.  I mean, the lively - people."

As Buffy is walking to the Bronze, she senses someone is following her. A dark, mysterious, handsome man enters an alley. We see Buffy doing a handstand on an overhead pipe. She swings and knocks him down. He refuses to fight, and they talk. He tells her, "I don't bite"  He then adds, "Truth is, I thought you'd be taller. Or bigger." She tells him she wants to be left alone. He says, "You really think that's an option anymore? You're standing at the mouth of Hell. And it's about to open." He gives her a box, telling her she needs to be ready for "The Harvest". He leaves, and she opens the box to find a cross.

Buffy enters the Bronze, and embarrasses herself when she waves to someone waving at another person. She finds Willow, and they talk. Willow admits she has difficulty dating because she has difficulty talking. Buffy encourages her to seize the moment. She then spots Giles on the second floor. She excuses herself.

Giles is horrified at the mass of students at the Bronze, seeing it as a perfect breeding ground for vampires. Buffy mentions her encounter with the mysterious, good-looking man, but Giles doesn't know who he is. He asks her see if she can reach out with her mind and determine who on the dance floor is a vampire. She notes one, not because of an internal feeling, but because his clothes are out of style. She's casual about this, until she notes he's dancing with Willow, who was "Seizing the moment."

Meanwhile, we suffer through a conversation Cordelia is having with her friends. Jesse comes up to ask her to dance, but she treats him horribly.

Buffy fights the crowd to find Willow.  She goes to the alley, and grabs the first person who comes out an exit, pointing a stake at her. Sadly, it's Cordelia, followed by her posse. Cordelia is not interested in where Willow is. Buffy finds Giles and tells him she'll handle it.

Jesse is Bronze, chatting up the woman we say in the opening shot. She's flirting with him. She tells him her name is Darla.

We're now back underground, and the big vampire, Luke, watches as the Master rises from a pool of blood. He is weak. Luke tells him he'll be restored by the upcoming Harvest. He says he needs to eat, requesting something young.

Buffy meets Xander, asking him if he's seen Willow. He's impressed that Willow found a guy at the Bronze. Xander, seeing Buffy's concern, says, "I hope he's not a vampire. 'Cause then you'd have to slay him." He thinks she is delusional or joking. But seeing she's serious, he agrees to help her find Willow.

Willow and the vampire are at a mausoleum. Willow is increasingly nervous. He pushes her into the mausoleum. She announces she's going, but backs up into Darla. Darla's brought Jesse, who's bleeding at the neck. He thinks it's a hickey. Darla and the other vampire let their faces turn into monsters.

Suddenly, Buffy's in the mausoleum, letting off the one-liners she's famous for using when confronting vampires. She almost gracefully dusts the male vampire, startling Xander and Willow. Buffy tells Xander to take the others and go, and proceeds to fight Darla. For whatever reason she doesn't know that Buffy is the Slayer. 

Behind Buffy, Luke appears, grabbing her by the neck. Darla flees and we see Willow, Xander, and Jesse surrounded by vampires. Buffy fights Luke as he quotes his sacred text. He throws her into the crypt, then jumps in on top of her. Buffy's pinned.


About the Episode

Aired on March 10, 1997 - ten years ago??? Welcome to the Hellmouth and The Harvest aired together, but I separated the entries.

My thoughts the first time I watched this: Well, true confessions: I didn't watch this the first time it aired. See my prejudices above. The first time I saw this was when FX aired it. Thus, I knew exactly who Darla was when she broke into the school with her victim. Oh, well. 

My thoughts now: Seeing the high school and listening to the opening credits made my heart sing. How I've missed you, Buffy. 

The opening scene says it all. We've seen it a million times, especially those of us who have seen too many Lifetime movies. The boy is going to have sex with the innocent blond girl. And if she refuses, well, he'll rape her. But as evil as his intentions might be, it turns out he's the innocent, probably never having met a vampire before. The sweet innocent blond turns into a vampire, and drains all the blood out of him. She then stuffs his body into a locker. 

That says just about everything you need to know about Joss Whedon's creation. He wanted to turn the tropes on their head, the tropes in which the pretty young blond is sacrificed to the horror movie villains. In the opening scene, the blond is not the victim but the villain, and a pretty horrible one at that. But even more important to Whedon, another young blond is not a victim either, she's the hero. It's her actions that save herself and her friends (and the world!) many times. Not your typical television or movie fare.

I always expect the first episodes of a series to be rocky as they try to settle on the correct tone, pacing, and characterization. This episode pretty much has all that established. The comedy with the horror are intermixed well, though the pacing a little rocky. The characterization is pretty good. Buffy is the reluctant heroine who just wants to be a regular high school student, while Giles is the stuffy British guy flummoxed by the world of American teenagers. Willow is terrified of her peers and tries to sink into the woodwork. Xander is a self-deprecating jokester.

Some of the special effects are ... well ... not so good. See the Master coming out of the pool of blood as an example. I'm also surprised that neither Darla nor Luke recognize that Buffy is the Slayer. 

The story makes clear how Xander first found out Buffy was a Slayer (and I love that he thought she was delusional or playing a game). Besides Giles, he was her first partner in Slaying, as he eagerly joined her in searching for Willow. I'm surprised she allowed him to help her. 

I did not remember that Cordelia was such a bully. Her treatment of Willow and Jesse is horrifying, and she would now be the poster child for the evils of bullying. I will be curious to see if her transition from horrible mean girl to full-fledged member of the team feels organic or forced. However, she always gets the best lines!

Angel doesn't get much to do, except stand around and look both creepy and mysterious. No evidence of either the brooding for which he is famous or the charisma that has made the actor a leading actor on not one but two shows. I know it'll come!

What we learned about Slaying: Let's quote Giles: "Into each generation a Slayer is born, one girl in all the world, a Chosen One, one born with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires, to stop the spread of their evil..." Slayers have prophetic dreams and are able to recognize vampires with their enhanced senses. 

What we learned about vampires: To create another vampire, the victim must suck the blood of the vampire. They look completely normal until they are about to feed, when they reveal their demonic visage. Some vampires are religious. Not all vampires recognize the Slayer.

What we learned about Sunnydale: Sunnydale was built on the Hellmouth (thanks Angel, for that bit of information). There's been a steady stream of fairly odd occurrences, according to Giles.

Body Count: Humans:  1 (the boy Darla ate); Vampires: 1, Thomas, dusted by Buffy.

What we learned about our characters:

Buffy was kicked out of her high school for burning down the school gym as she flushed out a vampire nest. She and her mother apparently moved to Sunnydale afterward to start over. Being a Slayer has cost Buffy quite a lot, including losing all her friends and having to fight for her life. Buffy is rather lazy with her Slayer powers, as she is unable to recognize a vampire using her Slayer-sense. Although she claims to be retired from Slaying, she carries a stake in her purse.

Willow and Xander have been friends for a very long time. Willow's feelings for Xander are much more romantic than his for her. Willow's mother apparently buys Willow's clothes for her, and they don't appear to fit very well. She is considered to be one of the smartest girls in the school. Xander, on the other hand, is really good on the skateboard (do we see him on that ever again?) who is not excelling at school and seeks Willow's help. 

Cordelia is the mean girl everyone went to high school with. She initially likes Buffy, mainly because Buffy was from LA, but Cordelia's opinion changed because of Buffy's association with Willow, Xander, and Jesse, Buffy's fascination with the corpse, and then Buffy's attempt to stake her. I really can't blame Cordelia for not wanting to be staked. We also learned that Cordelia's mother stays in bed all day and has been diagnosed with Epstein-Barr (which is not cool enough for Cordelia).

Giles is Buffy's Watcher, and he's new to the school. 

Best quotes:

Buffy: (when Xander returns her stake) Oh. No. That was for self defense. Everyone has them in L.A. Pepper spray is so passe.

Cordelia: I don’t want to interrupt your downward mobility. I just thought I’d tell you that you won’t be
meeting Coach Foster, the woman with chest hair, because gym has been canceled due to the
extreme dead guy in the locker.

Buffy: Prepares me for what? For getting kicked out of school? Losing all my friends? Having to spend
all my time fighting for my life and never getting to tell anyone because it might ‘endanger’
them? Go ahead. Prepare me. 

Buffy: Come on. This is Sunnydale. How bad an evil can there be here?

Willow:  I think boys are more interested in a girl who can talk. 
Buffy: You really haven't been dating lately.

Cordelia (after nearly getting staked): God, what is your childhood trauma? 

Buffy (in response to Darla asking who she is): Wow, you mean there’s actually somebody around here who doesn't know already? That’s a relief. I’m telling you, having a secret identity in this town is a job of work.

Fan Alerts:

I may have a special page about the activities of the main cast. Instead, I'll provide fan alerts for  those who are guest stars on the episode on which they first appear.

24 Fan Alert and Six Feet Under Fan Alert - Eric Balfour, Jesse in Buffy, has been around for a long time, and has had many roles. You may remember him as Clare's druggie boyfriend on Six Feet Under and as Milo Pressman in 24.

Dexter Fan Alert and No Ordinary Family Fan Alert (no, no one was a fan of No Ordinary Family, but I did cover it in my blog...once). Julie Benz plays the criminally underused Darla (Whedon recognized this and resurrected Darla on the spin-off, Angel). Benz has has many roles, but I suspect she's most famous as Dexter's tragic wife, Rita. She also played a mom on the horrible No Ordinary Family