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Tried Hulu for the first time, watched Season 2, Episode 14 of Buffy again - that one was the morning after Abigail gave everything she had to a boy who changed his mind. The picture needed to rebuffer on me six times or so, plus froze momentarily every now and then, but all this was manageable. I still cried.

(I haven't yet done my writeup of the season's last two episodes, either. Need to find my notes.)
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Ah, this is a refreshing change of pace, a thoroughly mediocre episode. There was a nice exchange, though:

"You you you. What about me? It's one thing to be dating the lame unpopular guy. It's another to be dating the creature from the blue lagoon."

"Black lagoon. The creature from the blue lagoon was Brooke Shields."

Cordelia watch )

The rest of the episode involved so-what monster transformations, a boring villain with obvious motivation you could see miles away, and some correct but boringly done swipes at jock privilege and date rape, almost no emotional resonance. Felt like hack TV, really. But it did get me thinking even more about the Cordy role, which is the most problematic, and about the show's neglecting to give the school an underlying social fabric. Buffy The Vampire Slayer isn't about the school's social fabric, so the neglect isn't debilitating, but I wish Whedon and his colleagues had nonetheless given the fabric more thought, worked out a deep social background they could draw on. So under the cut we go for speculations and wishful thinking.

Cordy and the missing social landscape )

An Artist Of Style )

The social canvas reimagined )
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This entry will be hurried and sloppy because I want to get my thoughts down before my memory of the episode fades utterly, and I have to be somewhere in an hour, so corrections and additions will come when I get back, but HOLY AMAZING COW! How did they pull this off? I was sure at the start that (1) this episode was yet more time-killing while the series waited to take care of Angel in the season finale; (2) so, like the previous episode, it wouldn't have much to do with the story arc that we've been intermittently getting since Episode Thirteen; (3) ghost of a dead boy from the Fifties is almost guaranteed hokum; and (4) in fact, My So-Called Life, the gold standard for teens on TV as far as I'm concerned, had already fumbled and flubbed their attempt at Ghost Boy From The '50s several years earlier. So anyway, as this was going along, I was saying to myself, "OK, they haven't made any wrong moves yet, I'm actually taken by the mystery here, but still, it seems wrong that they've forgotten their ongoing task." And then, man, did they pull one on me, not just relating the story to the arc but nailing it to the themes and to poor Buffy's emotions, or nailing Buffy's emotions to this story, leading us by the nose and whomping us with the connection but, owing to strong dialogue and acting, getting me to absolutely buy into and feel as profound a tale that fundamentally was constructed out of a spare and worked-over melodramatic scene with sentimental paperback psychology layered on top of it. I guess people's lives as they're told often are melodrama and sentiment, even if as lived they're much deeper, but smart drama can suggest a world of thoughts and feelings beyond the simplicities of the story. This episode is about whether Buffy Can Find A Way To Forgive Herself. Also, I don't actually get the plot logic of the conclusion, though that's no matter since we're pushing for emotional "logic" here anyway, but now we go down under the cut.

How does James get his ending? )

EDIT Gellar as actress )

EDIT Cordelia watch )
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"Fear is for the weak! That's my motto. Either that or live in the now. I haven't decided yet."

The DVD* was due back at the library today, so I watched five episodes in two days. I took notes as I was running through, so I'll be recounting my thoughts and speculations in the order they occurred, more or less.

For this one, the hospital episode, I initially went, "Oh no, they're back to monster of the week. Probably just killing time until they can resolve the Angel business in the final couple of episodes" - which may be true, but this story had me from the first second. Not that it was a clutch-your-throat thriller. More a hazy "What's going on here?" mystery, though they quite wisely kept many scenes in the sharp skeptical daylight. Sort of a division of labor, where in the day you apply thought at a distance, which prepares you for the night where you need to combine this with the insight of delirium.

The pattern of a Buffy episode will often be: a number of things are going on, high-school life and demon life, always with something unexplained, and then there will be a turning-point scene that may or may not be plot-related but in which the episode locks into what it's emotionally about, at least for me. (There may also be more such scenes later in the episode, or at the end, to give you different angles.) These scenes will usually be conversations among two or more of the young friends, though occasionally they'll be between Buffy and her mom or Buffy and Giles. In the Kendra episode, the crucial scene - the one I remember as crucial, anyway - occurs when Kendra disparages feelings and Buffy therefore deliberately gets Kendra mad at her, comes on smug, telling Kendra why despite Kendra's superior technique she would have whipped her in a fight. She gets Kendra mad and tells Kendra that that's a feeling, that's anger, that a slayer needs anger to push her through to victory. And Kendra gets it, that Buffy is helping her, and she feels grateful, and this is conveyed in a couple of seconds, in looks, and the two girls bond.

Turning point )

A couple of random notes:

(1) Buffy never bruises. This is one of those credibility problems that the show deals with by making a point of it; one of its consequences is that it makes the police skeptical of her, whenever she tries to explain that she was attacked, and was defending herself.

(2) I wish someone, like [livejournal.com profile] katstevens or [livejournal.com profile] petronia or anyone who remembers, would comment on the clothing, since that's what I tend to be conscious of least, and what I'm least knowledgeable of. I'm good at plot shapes and intentions and themes. And what I see before my eyes makes me feel, but I'm not good at noticing. I do remember in the final scene of Episode 16, the scene where Cordelia stands against her gang; she's wearing a bright girly sunny summer preppy thing, primary colors, it jumping to the eye as especially pretty in a thoroughly mainstream way (my mind said "The Gap," but that's probably a decade or so out of date), this linking her especially to her crew, and differentiating her especially from Xander, which makes her beautiful distress when they run into Xander feel especially intense.

DSL whine )
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"Are you insane? We're supposed to kill the bitch, not leave gag gifts in their friends' beds."

Only have time for a few quick notes. The first half of the episode seemed very clumsy in its exposition. I wonder if I were to watch it again if I would find it less clumsy and more appropriate, since the payoff turned it into a good episode. Still maybe a little wet and obvious, and now we maybe have too good an idea of what's next for Angel's state of mind.

What pulls the episode together is the scene that's actually least essential to the plot, the one where Buffy and her mom have The Serious Talk about Buffy's sex life. It's what brings the show to emotional reality, establishes that at the deepest level Buffy and her mom can trust each other, and we maybe can trust Whedon et al. (I'm still not there yet.)

Joyce watch )

Cordelia watch )

Angel watch )
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"All you ever do is what everyone else does just so you can say you did it first."

I wonder if Cordelia's closing monologue was written before the rest, and then the question for the scriptwriters was "How do we get here?"

They pull off the near impossible, which is to do an episode that borders on total farce but keep it just serious enough in the right places so that when warmth and emotional risk are called for, what we see really is warmth and emotional risk.

It's the love potion number nine episode (well, witchcraft gone awry, but you know what I mean).

Crucial ongoing trope in the series: someone offers to date or sleep with someone who's been longing for just that offer from just that person, but the other person turns down the offer because in the circumstances the dating or sex won't mean the love that he or she wants it to mean.

As Dave's said, the leap in quality in the middle of this season comes when the show starts to ride on pure character; there's now a surer sense of character, so that analogies etc. become believable. In the first Amy/witchcraft episode back in Season One the dangerous witchcraft was basically something from outside the main characters, external evil that they had to deal with. And the mother-living-through-her-daughter idea was thrown at us as an idea. This time what happens isn't an idea - at least not an idea I'd be able to state: Xander thinking he wants something, getting something else that every man would supposedly want, this getting twisted into horrifying parody and farce, and as a result of this brouhaha he finds that getting what he truly wants has nothing to do with his efforts. Both of these - the effort and the getting - come from his personality. (And the rest is under the cut.)

Cordelia watch )

Joyce watch )
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"I mean, three days of the month I'm not much fun to be around, either."

Werewolf episode. Was much lighter than the last episode, perhaps by design. I figured out both surprises before they were revealed (identity of werewolf in the woods and secret of big bruiser Larry in the locker room); I guess these were pretty well telegraphed. I mean, who was left unaccounted for whom the People for the Ethical Treatment of Werewolves would end up being concerned about?

Anyway, thought "Oh no" at the start when I saw this was about werewolves, and had an even bigger "Oh no" when the story began hitting us with analogies between a guy going werewolf and the way boys change on you (you know, they're hot and they're cold, they're yes and they're no, they're in and they're out, they're up and they're down and change their minds like a girl changes clothes and, er, I'd better quit before I get into any more trouble). But the episode ended up being so loose and human and funny about this that it at least got by. My turning point was when Buffy and Giles were out hunting werewolves on Lovers' Lane and Giles suggests they "might knock on a few windows and ask if anyone's seen anything yet."

Buffy: "Giles, no one's seen anything."

Giles (light dawning in his mind): "Oh, yes, no, of course not. No. Yes."
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Right. Crackerjack episode. I resisted at first, not because I minded what they did with Angel (my notes say, "OK, first really interesting plot twist of the series"), but because the analogy they were drawing seemed too facile, and I feared that the Big Plots involving Angel and the Judge were going to drown out the psychosocial stuff in school that is my favorite part of the show. But the scriptwriters were right fine at working in the psychosocial, and the human story - what Buffy was feeling - overwhelmed the analogy. And the acting, staging, and camera work were pretty much perfect in all the emotional scenes. E.g., in the library after the hallway fight, the camera did a good unobtrusive job of finding its way to the people who really understood what was emotionally going on (Buffy, Jenny, Willow) without resorting to cuts and reaction shots, and the staging was wise to have Jenny standing in the back with Rupert, understanding, but isolated because of her extra unknown role and so not allowing herself to truly interact.

You should take a look at Dave's commentary on the Ted episode, which includes this thought:

The magic of Buffy, which starts to become clear, I think, as this season goes on, is that it puts its characters in a kind of psychology-space that's more compelling than the "real" space (single mom! step-dad! etc.!) OR the "fantasy" space (vampires! demons! etc.!). The middle-ground, a kind of internal world that doesn't cleanly connect back to Real-World but also doesn't quite make it wholesale into a Sci Fi world. It starts to ride on pure character, and on pure(r?) emulation of a sort of teenaged mind-state (in this case junior year of high school -- senior year is VERY "senior year" feeling, tho, because the show's voice is more assured).

OK, before we get to the SPOILERATION under the cut, a couple of trivial logic questions: (1) If vampires live off people's blood, why would they want the Judge to destroy everyone? Spike has the line, "I know you haven't been in the game for a while, mate, but we still do kill people, sort of our raison d'ĂȘtre, you know," but that can't be altogether true. (2) We know why it wouldn't do any good for living humans to shoot vampires, but say there was a human who is very dangerous to vampires, a slayer, for instance: why wouldn't the vampires simply shoot her?

Willow watch )
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"Better do a round robin. Xander, you go first."

"Good call."

"Round robin?"

"It's when everybody calls everybody else's mom and tells them they're staying over at everyone's house."

"Thus freeing us up for world save-age."

OK, promised not to pick at illogic from episode to episode, but at the end of the last one Buffy was so grounded, like, forever, and now she's gallivanting off to surprise parties and pretending to study at friends' houses, etc.

Nice misdirection: in Buffy's dream, her mom asks her if she's really ready, then the plate falls and breaks; we (or I, anyway) assume that "ready" means "for sex." But then irl Buffy's mom asks her if she's really ready to start driving. But the true direction is a misdirection itself, since sex really is one of the episode's questions, while driving is not.

Non-demon-related concerns )
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"With all sorts of hormones surging through your bodies, compelling you to action, it's often difficult to remember that there are negative consequences to having sex. Would anyone care to offer one such consequence?"

"Well, that depends. Are you talking about sex in the car or out of the car?"

The closest they've come to a good, scare ya, horror movie episode. Possession and creepy crawlies. Peaked in the middle, when we didn't yet know the nature of the little creepy crawly that was stalking Buffy. There was a metaphor that was very there if you wanted to notice but was never explicitly thrown at us, an analogy between raising children and raising monsters. Good thing it wasn't made explicit, because it actually wasn't relevant. Little slimy things and big slimy thing are what was relevant.

Cordelia watch )

My favorite part came right at the beginning, in a mall, where Buffy sees a couple on an escalator, one of whom is nonreflecting in the mirror that lines the side. So in tracking them she goes into a "backstage area," a functional, nondescript hallway, light-green institutional lighting, pay phones and restrooms, ugly oval trash bin, just a way from here to there. Fine contrast, overdecorated mall, underdecorated core, but you need to have a vampire plot to walk you from one to the other.
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Episode title: Three's Company.

(Just kidding. It's really "Ted.")

I don't have strong feelings about this episode, though it was done steadily enough, no one out of character, no false shifts in tone. And Gellar was excellent going from suspicion and petulance to remorse, so the moments when she gets to let loose and fight come as a strong relief, as if they really take her back to herself. The episode nicely makes us a little uneasy about Buffy's apparent license to kill, without sloshing us in the uneasiness. John Ritter, as Buffy's mom's suitor, is good at seeming a bit off in his goodness; so we're with Buffy in her suspicions (and we would be anyway, given that the episode is called "Ted," and no one else in it seems a candidate for monster). We also eventually get an explanation for why none of the others join Buffy in her early suspicions (they're all eating the feel-good food).

I did enjoy watching, of course. My relative noninvolvement is probably because there was no real tension between Buffy and her friends. They're fundamentally with her even before they're with her, and anything else would have been out of character. The Cordy-Xander soap opera and the Rupert-Jenny soap opera feel alluded to more than deeply embodied.
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"Wiggy?" (Not all slayers are conversant with this phrase.)

"My black goddess. My right, wicked plum." (Term of endearment, strange couple.)

"I'd rather be worm food than look at your pathetic face." (Term of endearment, normal couple.)

"You feel that? How the anger gives you fire?" (Essential vampire-slaying attitude that was left out of handbook.)

"Still, he's cute." (Bloodsucker has redeeming quality.)

Setting: School has a sewing room, useful for impromptu romantic encounters.

Cordelia watch, with SPOILER )
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"The Order Of Turaka! Isn't that overkill?"

First of a two-parter. At career week, Xander is bitter at his poor prospects, Buffy depressed by her nonprospects; meanwhile, in the decryption bunker, the sentence "Debase the beef canoe" strikes Spike as meaningless; he, in turn, strikes the man who decoded it, then shifts attention back to his codependent relationship.

Pure pleasure at the start, Xander's wit getting funnier and more brutal as he seesaws between depression and deprecation, and excellent ham and cheese from the vampires. Episode gets less interesting after the second commercial, as assassins try assassinating, and defense and suspense mounts. Script does find a way to put Xander and Cordelia in the same house. Double cliffhanger as Worm Man sets beady eye on them, while in a plot twist on the other side of town, unexpected semantic confusion erupts between "slaying" and "assassinating." Stay tuned...
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"I'm so used to you being a grown-up, and then I find out you're a person."

"Most grown-ups are."

"Who would have thought?"

"Some are even short-sighted, foolish people."

"So, after all this time we finally find out we do have something in common."

Rupert's dark ages. Solid episode, very few missteps in tone, Willow and Angel eventually providing an ingenious solution to the problem, and this time the end-of-episode platitudes between Giles and Buffy are genuinely touching, she* offering him support and understanding (she gets that his being a watcher separates him from normal life), he demonstrating that duties and desires (and duties and other duties) can conflict for him, just as they do for her, and he doesn't always know the right balance - so he gets to screw it up too, hence is real, a person. Nice staging, too: talking, facing each other in the hallway, reaction shots, his rueful confession, her concern, then the two settling back against the wall in a two shot as they affirm their similarity.

Disengagement, and Cordelia watch )

*Right, OK, "she" doesn't feel right, but neither does "her." I think "she" is right, 'cause "offering" is acting as a present participle rather than as just a gerund (I just looked up the distinction today on Wikipedia; can't say I quite get it, but "offering" is functioning as a verb rather than the start of a noun phrase, I guess, though I suppose it can go either way [as could "you being a grown-up" and "your being a grown-up," but the first is vastly more idiomatic for Buffy]). Whereas "his being a watcher" is clearly right. EDIT: Oops, xpost.
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"OK, but do they really stick out?"

"What?"

"Sore thumbs. Do they stick out? I mean, have you ever seen a thumb and gone, 'Wow! That baby is sore!'?"

"You have too many thoughts."

Episode starts real shitty, then turns relatively good. Problem is the script's heavy-handed insistence that Buffy is jealous and doesn't trust Angel, and doesn't trust her own appeal, etc., and that Angel is also insecure and jealous, and there's new guy Ford to be jealous of, and Xander's jealous in his usual way, and the show gets mired in all this exposition.

The reason it feels like exposition is that the show has never sold us on Buffy's insecurities or on her* and Angel being anything but trustworthy, in relation to each other and to everybody else. Now, irl it would make sense that a 16-year-old who has mastery in one part of her life might feel plenty insecure in others, or that someone who has a basic nonnormal aspect to his being might wonder if anyone would really want to get close to him, even if he is strong and handsome. But as I said, the show has never sold us on this, so Xander is the only one whose jealousy believably emanates from his personality (since he does get overlooked and he really is vastly more interesting than sensitively morose hunkboy Angel; but Interesting isn't what Buffy needs).

The misunderstood Lonely Ones )
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"Do the demons just hate how commercial it's become?" (On why demons take Halloween off.)

Episode takes half a show's worth of clumsy exposition to get going, and even then falls into cliché, but nonetheless interesting threads are spun. On Halloween the kids turn for real into whatever they're dressed as. Earlier clumsy exposition is about how for one night you get to be who you aren't (but might want to be?). So this confirms that Buffy really, actually wants to be Buffy, not some simpering girly-girl 18th-century noble woman. Ah, but Willow is unformed, so she gets to find new aspects of herself; also shows that she's got the character to take command when Buffy flakes out - which we already knew, but Willow might not have.

So:

Willow takes over.
Giles has secrets.*
Buffy gets laid? (After almost getting slayed.)

OK, I've got a definite complaint. Show is cheating in that, if Buffy feels frazzled and harried and maybe unattractive, you've got to make her look askew, and frazzled, not just give her a tasteful bit of dishevelment.

Spike watch )

Cordelia watch )

*Similarities between Giles and Magnum, P.I.'s Higgins. Both are in a nanny/caretaker role, slightly demasculinized, but Higgins had a past as a sergeant major in the British army and iirc did some work with the British equivalent of the Special Forces, and Giles, as we know, can be a fighter.
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"Buffy, it's like we're sisters, with really different hair."

Frat party, with boring monster at the end, and boring attempt at human sacrifice. But up 'til then, this episode is relatively sure-handed, the "nice guy" frat guy doing a good job of attracting Buffy through his babbling hesitance and humility. In fact, if the script had been written around that, around Buffy's compassionate nature being both a strength and a potential vulnerability, we'd have a strong episode. The theme of Giles pushing Buffy too hard in training is pushed too hard, and there's still too much heavy sadness in the Buffy-Angel courtship (not that the sadness isn't plausible, given the situation, but plausibility doesn't make it art). But this is lightened in advance by superb Willow exposition of the sociological ramifications of asking someone for coffee:

The nonrelationship drink of choice )
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"You gave up your life."

"But I had you to bring me back."

Another monster-of-the-week episode, but this one they pretty much ace. A mummy comes to life as a beautiful sixteen-year-old girl, wanting back the life that she sacrificed five centuries earlier. Obvious analogies to Buffy, but done not for weepiness but to further underline the ramifications of Buffy being potentially doomed herself. Not only can't Buffy have a normal life (this is standard to the superhero genre, and to some extent also to the western and to the detective story), but she is also the center of a group, the young woman who gives purpose to her friends and allies, connecting them to each other as well as to her: there's Buffy and Mr. Giles, of course, and also Xander and Willow, but (um, these are minor SPOILERS if you are reading despite not having seen the show) Angel and Cordelia are sort of in the circle too, now, as is Miss Calendar, possibly. So all these people need her but none of them can quite have her; yet if they lose her they might lose their center. Angel and Buffy can maybe have a romance since neither of them is normal, but both know there's no way they can really be a couple, since he can never join her day, or her his predicament. And, well, that bit of dialogue above, from the end of the episode, is rich:

More SPOILER under the cut )

I love that courtyard: cheap functional "pillars," a bush, and a tree of some sort, you see its trunk only (eucalyptus? palm?), hard to tell if it's regular bark or metal mesh atop the bark to protect it from students. Courtyard convos are always so great; the courtyard seems to be the truth spot, the characters hidden in full view, the multicultural swirl going by (a couple of Chicanos on a bench, an Asian teacher, diverse ethnicities and all colors but still mostly white) while Xander or Buffy or Willow or Rupert speaks to one of the others about what he or she is most troubled by.

This entire school is suggested by: a lawn, two classrooms, a hallway, a principal's office, a library, a locker room, a gymnasium, a boiler room, a closet, a girl's lavatory, and a few more nondescript rooms as needed. I recall in one episode there was also a media room with several computers. Also an episode with stage and auditorium. (Other places?)

Cordelia watch )
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"If every vampire who said he was at the Crucifixion was actually there, it would have been like Woodstock!"

So, Spike appears. And I've read enough bits on ilX and in the Village Voice to know that he's not just a momentary addition to the punch, so to speak.

A good episode, though I don't get why Spike gave up the battle so soon.

Interesting question as to whether Buffy's mom can grasp what's essential about Buffy despite not knowing anything of the task that Buffy is facing. Well, she assumes that adolescence is Buffy's task. In this episode she sees and understands Buffy's true character, but presumably the issue will return. Meanwhile, it's Xander who really gets to be the show's adolescent, its representative of growing pains. And Giles gets to be everyone's parent - a comically self-effacing one, but still, when necessary, the adult in the room.

Other items:

--Officials know more than they're letting on. (Or, anyway, think they know something, and presumably we'll find out what they think, sooner or later.)
--Buffy still hasn't learned to ask for help.
--Xander still hasn't learned to trust Angel.
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Body snatcher episode, the worst ever; I felt like I was being dragged by the nose to its insights - "Oh, look, Angel's acting jealous" - while nonetheless no one is quite in character, because the script is busy overemphasizing the nature of those characters. Xander rebuffing Cordelia's thanks and appreciation at the end sticks out like a sore thumb, since, though he can be quick and cutting with his jabs, he's never previously been crude or gratuitously mean.

Brief cut so that people who say 'Frank, This Isn't Fair When You Tell Us Not To Give Any Spoilers And Then You Pull Shit Like This' don't have to look )

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