SD/TV 07/09/2008 – Buffy Loses Faith – Michael Wins Cool Points

Not so much TV this week – a lot of Buffy Season 3, an odd episode of The Office, and not much else. We have been socialising!

Buffy Season 3: 12-18

Season 3 continues to remind me why I was so insistent that, despite her desires to the contrary, Girl One should watch this show.

All the elements are pretty much there and ticking along together – it’s the show at it’s strongest. It’s just a shame that knowing that Angel starts at the end of this season/beginning of the next provides something of a generalised spoiler for this season.

0312 – Helpless: One of those times when your heart breaks, as Buffy and Giles end up on the outs, and that wonderful Gellar/Head chemistry comes into play. Also notable because it’s when Giles loses support from the council. It seems like it will only be a temporary thing, and I can’t honestly remember how that thread plays out, but it ends up having repercussions throughout the rest of his and Buffy’s relationship…

Also, I’ve a sneaking feeling that one of the bit parts in this episode ended up as a prominent character in Enterprise, which doesn’t quite beat out the appearance of Michael from Prison Break in the credits every week (after his appearance in Go Fish), but it’s still quite cool.

0313 – The Zeppo: A brilliant Xander episode. Without giving too much away, a great character episode in which Xander gets to explore his purpose – or lack of one – in the group. Notable because the world is threatened, once again, and lots of self-aware melodrama indicates that it’s the worst apocalypse ever. And it all happens off-camera, as Xander’s own, more down to earth adventure happens around it.

It isn’t often enough that Xander gets to be the hero, so this episode is a pretty cute and funny one, and a novelty, n’all.

0314 – Bad Girls: Buffy and Faith get hyped up on being slayers, until tragedy strikes. This is notable because up till now, Faith has been an interesting mirror for Buffy in a very controlled, restrained way, narrative wise.

Now, Faith is a true cautionary tale for Buffy – what she might be, but for the grace of Giles and co.

This episode is also notable for being the one where Wesley, the new watcher, turns up. Although he was never really a major character in this show, we get to see some devastating fuck-ups on his part, which work to highlight how useful Giles actually is, despite getting knocked unconscious in almost every episode.

0315 – Consequences: Perhaps unsurprisingly, this episode is about what happens in the wake of Faith’s transgression in the previous episode. This is a pretty important installment of the season’s arc, but even so I tend to forget it. The most striking thing about the episode, apart from Willow’s uncharacteristic outburst, is the continuing need on Wesley’s part to make dickhead decisions that end in carnage.

When the show was first aired, at this point in the run, I recall thinking that Wesley was never intended as anything more than a cypher. I’m not sure about that now, but it’s clear on watching the episodes now that they were really going to lengths to turn the audience against him, and it works.

0316- Doppelgangland: A bit of a Willow episode, this, and it’s wonderful. The anti-Willow from the alternate universe created by Cordelia and Anya in “The Wish” gets pulled across into the “real” universe.

Of course, there’s some predictable mistaken-identity comedy – and tragedy – as the Scooby gang encounter the evil Willow doppelganger, and jump to the wrong conclusions. And yes, of course, we’ve seen this sort of thing before – it’s a staple of genre and even non-genre series that always comes up at some point.

What makes this episode work is Alyson Hannigan’s performance as first Willow, then anti-Willow, and a few different variations in-between. There are also a couple of beats in the script that suggest that Whedon already had a long term plan for Willow’s arc, and later changes weren’t completely out of the blue, but in the context of this episode, they’re just perfect comedy moments.

This is also the first return appearance of Anya, who I’m quite fond of, and there are some nice interactions between various characters, such as Oz and Angel, that are refreshing because they don’t happen very often. Although the monster fighting in Buffy was a relatively new thing at the time, it really is how the writers and actors handle the character beats, especially in those quiet two-person scenes, that makes the show something different entirely.

0317 – Enemies: Another episode that I forget about, normally. Which in this case is actually quite nice, because it’s a twisty and turny episode, in which Faith’s loyalties and true feelings are handled deftly, as she starts to find herself drawn to Angel.

The Mayor continues to be an utterly absorbing and entertaining villain, and actually I’m starting to realise that, in terms of the seasonal “big bad”, it never really got any better than Harry Groener’s performance as Mayor Richard Wilkins.

The relationship between Buffy and Angel continues to get more complicated, and it’s clear at this point that Whedon et al are preparing for the latter’s departure for his own series at the end of this season. What’s interesting watching through them again is that at the time I didn’t notice quite how consistently they wove that departure into the ongoing narrative of the season. It’s obvious in situations like this one that the decision to branch out into spin-off territory is primarily going to be business and finance led, but in this case, the way that the character and his place in Buffy’s life was developed over this whole season makes the whole thing seem more organic, and make more sense, than it might have otherwise.

0818 – Earshot: Earshot is one of those interesting episodes that plays out almost like a spec script that was written for another show, but that was adapted for use in this one. The central premise of this episode’s plot requires that one of the main cast, in this case Buffy, be psychic, for at least long enough to overhear somebody’s potentially devastating thought in the school cafeteria.

The meat of the episode that follows almost doesn’t even require Buffy to be present, as the rest of the team take on the task of attempting to work out who had the thought – that the next day everybody present, student and staff, would be dead – and stop them. That overheard threat, rather than Buffy’s struggle with her new and eventually debilitating but ultimately temporary power, the show’s particular version of the supernatural, or any of the other usual elements of the show, is what this episode’s story is about. The result is more Hitchcockian then Whedonesque, and more reflective of films like “The Dead Zone” or “The Mothman Prophecies”, then of Buffy.

This actually makes it a much more dramatic and nerve-wracking episode than others, and the key thing, that ultimately the threat here is a very human one, sets this one apart. I believe this is the episode that got shown in the UK before the US, because of the school-as-shooting-gallery themes – which actually lead to some very touching scenes in which we finally get properly introduced to Jonathan as an actual proper supporting character.

Oh, also, this is where Buffy finds out that her mother and Giles had sex. Twice. On the hood of a car.

The Office Season 2: 16

0216 – Valentine’s Day: We’re treating The Office poorly at the moment.

I’ve already seen them, and recently, so we’re watching them through every now and then for Girl One’s benefit. But Buffy is the more demanding show “oh fuck, what’s going to happen next” drama wise, so that’s staying in the DVD player on fairly solid rotation.

Add to that that the Girl has already seen some of the most recent season’s episodes of The Office, which removes the urgency of knowing what is going to happen to the characters, and we basically only watch it when there’s a half hour before bed, and we don’t have the energy to watch another full ep of something else.

This is a shame, because as I have always maintained, and as Girl One finally seems to be getting into the swing of, it really is a bloody good show.

This episode represents the second time a peculiar phenomena showed itself – that is, the fact that Jan, one of the most perfectly realised and subtly but catastrophically flawed characters of all time, who treats Michael Scott terribly badly and as such is the only character who makes us feel truly sorry for him, at the same time has a humanising effect on him.

At this point in the show’s continuity, we’ve really only seen Michael surprise us with genuine, unalloyed unselfishness twice, without him spoiling it seconds later, and both times it was when Jan has been in need of his support. Jan, on the other hand, even this early on, is belittling and controlling of Michael throughout, and we don’t even really see this go through to it’s natural conclusion until a couple of seasons on, but even now her bipolarity between cold calculation and impulsive self-destructive behaviour is very confusing for her subordinate.

It’s quite smart, that the least human character in the show, is the one who makes Michael almost normal.