Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Buffy Rewatch (Season 7a)

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 6b    Season 7b-->

Buffy recovered from the near stumble that was season six with a near return to form. Whereas Six had been an examination of real life and the mundane challenges everyone faces; Seven would examine something just as universal, but a bit more challenging: the nature of evil itself. Buffy and co. would face off against the Buffyverse version of the Devil—evil personified. How would that look? It will take the second half of the season to really understand “The First,” but we do get glimpses of It here. The problem with this season, and particularly the first half of it, is that so little develops over the course of each episode. The show has taken on a more soap opera pace where one story flows over the whole thing and individual episodes do not stand on their own at all. When comparing these 12 episodes to the first season’s 13 one is struck by how little story is told. Here is what we get:

Episode 1. “Lessons”
There are some genuinely creepy moments here, but added together this feels like a minor prologue. The High School is reopened three years after it was destroyed and the ghosts of missed chances or failures from the past show up to torment Buffy. It is a bit too spot-on for a “going back” or “you can’t ever really go back” story, and that is not what this season is interested in anyway so we get the feel that things haven’t gotten going yet.

Episode 2. “Beneath You”
Anya is back in the vengeance demon business, but remorseful about what she is being asked to do. When she tries to be as extreme as she was before, mildly dangerous and even less interesting high jinks ensue. Meanwhile, “The First” starts to set things in motion using Andrew and Jonathan. It does this by guiding Andrew to betray Jonathan using the form of Warren. “The First” can appear as anyone who has died, but in incorporeal form. It cannot interact with the physical world. Its only weapon is its ability to lie and manipulate.

Episode 3. “Same Time Same Place”
Willow returns early from England where she has been learning to control her evil impulses. She must return because serious trouble (in the form of “The First”) has been sensed as heading for the Hell Mouth. However, Willow’s guilt and shame for what she has done causes her to unwittingly make it so that she can’t be seen. Meanwhile a scary demon is around killing people by skinning them alive, naturally causing suspicion to fall on Willow. When she is left alone it gets very disturbing and scary.

Episode 4. “Help”
This is one of those tragic stories that remind us that sometimes the best heroics and hardest efforts are not enough. Sometimes we cannot help people either because they refuse our help or it is not in our power to make a difference. This is one of those truths that can cause people to not even attempt to make a difference, even when they are not otherwise apathetic. However, it is an important lesson to learn lest people lose heart. Even when we cannot save everyone, it is always worth the effort.

On another note: Why is it that in these sorts of stories the people who can see the future are always so annoying and stoic?

Episode 5. “Selfless”
This is a great story about redemption and repentance as well as the cost that is required to affect true salvation. Anya enacts a vengeance on some frat boys that is truly terrible and violent. It is a monstrous act and Anya more than anyone knows how bad it is. Try as she might, she cannot let her humanity—her conscience—go to become the monster she used to be. The only way for her terrible act to be undone is for her to offer her own life as payment to have it reversed. That she is willing to do, but in a twist she is forced to pay an even greater price…

Episode 6. “Him”
Humorous, but out of place and a retread of stories already told. Part of the humor lies in how people can see when others are affected by magic (or in the wrong), but fail to see the same weakness in themselves.

Episode 7. “Conversations with Dead People”
This is one of the best episodes of the series, from a pure storytelling perspective. The structure of the episode is experimental and fresh. It is not often that a story that is largely made up of pairs of people sitting in one location having a long conversation can be engaging, but they pull it off. The Dawn portion of this episode also happens to be one of the scariest things the series ever put on the air.

Episodes 8-11. “Sleeper” “Never Leave Me” “Bring On the Night” and “Showtime”
The next four episodes get a bit thick with the angst and melodrama and form one long story.

“Sleeper” is a semi-good take on the sleeper agent where “The First” is using Spike to do its dirty work. It does not really clarify the true nature of evil or the devil, even for the Buffyverse perspective though. It is more of a “the devil made me do it” story and even people in the Buffyverse have the potential to do wrong on their own. That is the danger of telling the story that this season wants to tackle.

Over the course of these episodes girls start showing up at Buffy’s house looking for safety. It turns out that “The First” has some servants who are systematically killing all the potential slayers. For some reason they are the one hope for humanity against it, which begs the question: how does the first evil related to humanity throughout history and why hasn’t it taken the slayer out before now? The answer the show gives us is that Buffy’s resurrection in the previous season has freed “The First” to do more, but what they are really saying is: “Don’t ask too many questions, this whole storyline is dangerously close to being a MacGuffin.”

What really turns out to be a MacGuffin is the super-vampire that pesters our heroes throughout these episodes. It is a perfect case of a plot device that is insurmountable only until it needs to be, and for no good reason at that.

Episode 12. “Potential”
Dawn is led to believe that she might be a potential. This is something that fulfills her dreams to be someone special in her own right. (A dream she presumably shares with the average viewer.) Buffy as Teacher and Leader is a bit too earnest, forgetting the strength she used to have and keep by “staying loose.” Xander’s words to Dawn at the end of this episode are some of the best in the series. “Normal” is often harder and more important than “special.”

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