Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Buffy Rewatch (Season 3a)

This post is inspired by the ongoing Buffy Re-watch being conducted over at Nik at Night. Check them out for a better, more detailed look at each episode every Tuesday.

<--Season 2b  Season 3b-->

The main theme running through season 3 is relationships. OK, most stories—even real life for that matter—is mostly about relationships, but here the matter is explored in the story arch. From the early episodes dealing with the repercussions of Buffy’s leaving town, to the way the characters have to deal with the Angel issues—both the things he did as the “Big Bad” and the way Buffy has to come to terms with killing him. How do we maintain and grow our relationships when we are all imperfect people? Towards the mid-point of the season a theme emerges that relates to the relationship theme: betrayal. Xander and Willow carry this storyline in the first half of the season, but many more stories and characters will deal with this topic later…

1. Anne

We kick things off this year with a badly done, cheap Temple of Doom imitation. Buffy has run away from home, not dealing with her Mom’s anger, a murder charge, and the fact that she had to kill Angel after he had been “cured.” She leads an incredibly well adjusted life for a runaway in L.A. until she meets a girl from the previous episode about the cult of vampire worshipers. This girl gets sucked into another cult, run by demons from another dimension using runaways as slave labor.

Hell and other dimensional realities are explored for the first (?) time in the Buffy-verse. They are a common enough sci-fi trope. Generally speaking, this show will use them in the way most science fiction does, and not as a true exploration of heaven or hell as a spiritual matter.

2. Dead Man’s Party

Buffy returns and the characters all must begin to deal with the difficulty of loss of trust and healing relationships. The main plot of this story is pretty forgettable, but the nice thing we see here is the healing between Buffy and those she loves is not accomplished all in one episode.

3. Faith, Hope & Trick

Faith shows up as the slayer who will take Kendra’s place. She is a loner who is forced to survive on her own once her slayer was killed, but that is not an excuse enough for all the flaws she exhibits. This will be explored further in the season and in seasons to come along with some episodes of Angel. For now she is just introduced.

4. Beauty and the Beasts

This episode is similar thematically to the previous season’s Phases. So we have the issues of violence against women using the werewolf imagery. However, another classic monster brings up the issue of violence against women in relationships.

5. Homecoming

Cordy and Buffy are somewhat out of character in this episode where they fight over the triviality of homecoming queen. The important event in this episode is when Xander and Willow begin a secret relationship. All in all, the first five episodes of season three have simply been treading water.

6. Band Candy

The immaturity of teens—and therefore the main characters of this show as well as its main target audience—are brought to light through the absurdity of having all the adults in town act like teens. It is a humorous episode, but significant for this reason even if most of the audience probably missed the point. For a show about high school, this was an important moment for the characters to recognize the need they have for a greater maturity in dealing with the issues they face in Sunnydale. They have not yet arrived, and they won’t over the course of the series to be honest, but they do develop and grow over the years.

7. Revelations

In Beauty and the Beasts, Buffy could not believe the way an abused girl would protect her boyfriend. Here, she is victim of her own blind spots when it comes to Angel. Buffy’s friends and loved ones now find out that Angel is back, that she has kept his return secret, and that he could be up to evil again.

Along with all of that, a new watcher has shown up to help Faith. The lesson learned here is: sound like you know what you are talking about, sound like you are in charge and people will follow. Or perhaps a better way of wording it would be: don’t simply trust authority figures; use your brain from time to time.

8. Lovers Walk

The “feeling” called love is explored in this episode. The way it makes people crazy. The way it changes people. The way it makes people do stupid things. The way it can hurt relationships when promises made in love are broken.

9. The Wish

As a result of Xander’s betrayal, Cordelia wishes that Buffy had never come into their lives. Since a vengeance demon happens to be around, wish granted. Thus we get our “It’s a Wonderful Life” episode. It is a typical parallel universe story. It is fun. However, there are a couple of important things that come out of this episode. It is just two weeks later that Buffy doubts her calling and thinks that she has made no difference. She never really experienced the events in this episode, but as viewers we know better. Also, the parallel Giles reminds us of Puddleglum in “The Silver Chair” when he expresses his faith that the other universe is a better place. Sometimes all we have is faith in which to place our hope. Stories like this show us how such a faith does work.

10. Amends

Here we find some of the most redemptive storytelling in Buffy. Angel is tormented with his past by the Buffy-verse version of the devil. It is the devil’s attempt to render him ineffective, or to cause him to go evil again. However, there is a reason that Angel is back on earth, and one can only conclude that it is for good. In a moment of absolute divine intervention Angel is saved from certain death. The show never acknowledges the existence of God, but in this episode Joss has admitted that they came close.

11. Gingerbread

In Gingerbread, we have an example of good ideas but poor execution. The problematic implication that all evil is supernatural and that normal people are not capable of being bad is a problem for the show. The fact is that the prejudice and group think that is depicted in this episode has led to a lot of evil being done in the world and it is wrong to think that people are not capable of this on their own. As it is, the parents in this episode are terribly written. Whedon and company are capable of handling tough issues in a subtle and nuanced manner. One can only assume that they buy into the thinking that religion does not deserve and intelligent examination. That is too bad, because the issues of religion explored here are important and should be addressed.

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