Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Buffy Rewatch (Season 3b)

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 3a  Season 4a-->

With the second half of season three, Buffy continues a run that concludes possibly one of the best seasons in sci-fi television ever. The themes that began the season: relationship, trust, and betrayal, continue and become more important. The character of Faith is a focal point of these themes in the way she relates to Buffy, the rest of the scoobies, and the “big bad” of the season: the Mayor. The Mayor himself is an interesting character to examine the theme of relationships. While he is a man who has spent a century doing terribly evil things for personal gain, he has wisdom about people and interpersonal relationships. His care for the character of Faith, and his advice for Buffy and Angel are important aspects of the season.

The season arc takes on more importance during this second half, but there are a few episodes that more or less stand alone:

12. Helpless

Buffy is unwittingly put to the test by the traditions of the Watcher’s Council. This test strains the relationship between her and Giles, as he is pushed to break the trust they have developed. In the end, relationship wins out over the religion-like institution but Giles loses his position with the council. This will ultimately help Buffy to realize that her mission and calling are more important than authority the council presumes to hold over her. As with most institutions, the council has slowly lost sight of the task they were created to perform in an effort to maintain the traditions they have developed seeking to fulfill that task. The task should always trump the organization.

13. The Zeppo

Television genius is achieved when the creators of Buffy turned the format on its head. Instead of the usual formula where a crisis dominates the story with one or more minor sideline character stories playing along the edges, this episode allows a story involving Xander to dominate whilst one of the biggest crises to face the series (one of only 20 or so end-of-the-world scenarios in 254 episodes) plays in the background.

The difference between this episode and others like it (“Lower Decks” from STNG and the Doctor-lite episodes from Doctor Who) is that this episode still explores a main character. Xander may not have a supernatural contribution to offer, but he is a vital member of the team. Not only is he more compelling than the others in that he is a normal man forced into extraordinary circumstances, he is often the voice of reason and wisdom on the team. Whereas Giles is knowledgeable, Willow is skilled and Buffy is powerful, Xander is always aware of what is important. He is later called the heart of the team, but the way this is expressed throughout the series is that he is the guardian of the friendship that exists between the characters.

In “The Zeppo” he saves the world and no one (other than the viewers) will ever know what he did. The fact that he knows, however, is enough to give him the confidence that he lacked before the episode started. It is a classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” type message… sort of.

16. Doppelgangland

This is a fun episode, where the vampire version of Willow from the parallel universe is pulled into the Buffy-verse. There is a minor amount of character development for Willow, but mostly it is simple entertainment. There is the interesting foreshadowing of sexual orientation, though. Willow is disturbed by everything her evil counterpart does, understandably. The interesting thing is that Willow is just as disturbed by the evil Willow’s homosexuality. The way she reacts leads one to believe that it has never crossed her mind that she might be gay, and we know that she has had a lifelong attraction to men. So, apparently sexual orientation in the Buffy-verse is purely a matter of choice. More on this later.

18. Earshot

When Buffy encounters an alien with telepathic abilities, she gains the ability to read people’s thoughts. This ability gives her new insights into a lot of the people in her life, but also nearly drives her mad when she can’t control it. Less a story, and more of an opportunity to learn things about the characters of the show, the episode does ultimately lead to the thwarting of a mass murder and the killer here ends up being a non-monster. (Albeit a lunch lady.)

20. The Prom

This episode is borderline silly; a classic season one “monster-of-the-week” save for one thing: the graduating school class reveals that they have not been entirely self-absorbed and clueless. They owe their lives to Buffy’s calling and they thank her for all that she has done in the past three years.

14. Bad Girls, 15. Consequences, 17. Enemies, 19. Choices

Throughout the second half of season three, the main storyline is Faith’s fall from grace. She has been a loose cannon since she arrived in town. The fact that she has all the power of a slayer, but no guidance and authority over, her has caused her to develop some bad ethical ideas. She begins to lead Buffy down this same path (after the events of “Helpless”) but Buffy comes to her senses when Faith mistakenly kills a man.

Whereas Buffy realizes she made a mistake, Faith decides to work for the Mayor as she sees his thinking is more in line with her own. Buffy and co. continue to try and redeem Faith until an elaborate sting reveals just how far she has gone towards evil.

The question that keeps coming back during this run is: why did they name this character Faith? It can’t be a coincidence, but the reason escapes me. The character ends this season in a coma, but will return later and undergo one of the most compelling character arcs in the Buffy-verse.

21, 22 Graduation Day

The mayor is one of the best villains in fiction. This is because he is such a paradox. He is an evil man bent on becoming a demon and destroying the town he set up 100 years before specifically for the purpose of supporting the demonic activity on the Hellmouth. Yet he is also a man seemingly stuck in the time of “Leave it to Beaver.” He is not just putting on a front; he really is the sort of person that believes in respect, family values and wholesome living. He is the ultimate example of the fact that outward appearances and behavior are no reflection of true character. Some of the worst people who have ever lived have probably been very legalistically religious.

When he turns, however, one is reminded once again of the similarities of Buffy and the original Doctor Who series. Both are high concept fantasy series that told stories years beyond their technical abilities. At times we are reminded that the art form being expressed here is more storytelling than television. (This is something that audiences are losing the ability to appreciate.) That being said, they really push the boundaries of suspension of disbelief in this case.

Here is a trailer that someone put together for the season. It is pretty well done and hopefully the people who own the material that was used will see it as a good promotion of their story. If not, it will be removed.

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