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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 16: Hell’s Bells

DVD

Written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner; Directed by David Solomon

As I’ve been making my way through this season, this episode has constantly been looming in the distance like a hurdle I’d have to face sooner or later. I kept willing myself to believe that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as I remembered… and yet, here I am, and it’s just as awful, if not more so. Hell’s Bells is worse than Teacher’s Pet, worse than Inca Mummy Girl… yes, even worse than Wrecked. It’s the one episode of Buffy that I can honestly say has nothing - not one single second - that can possibly redeem it. It’s just 45 minutes of worthless, poorly written, indifferently acted, incompetently staged hokum, and I struggle to imagine how anyone could have given it the thumbs-up. It really is, utterly and truly, a train-wreck.

What’s amazing is that it doesn’t even feel like an episode of Buffy. Previously, even the worst episodes of the season, no matter how incompetent they were and no matter how far they went from the original premise, at least had some semblance of still being the same show. This has none of it: I see Sarah Michelle Gellar, I see Alyson Hannigan, I see Nicholas Brendon, I see Amber Benson, I see all the regulars, but they’re like automatons. They bear no resemblance to the characters they usually play. This is soap opera, and it’s awful soap opera at that (which is saying something). It exists for no reason other than to destroy the two characters who actually looked like they might be headed for some happiness. Xander and Anya are broken up, smashed and reduced to shells of their former selves, and absolutely no purpose is served other than to conform to the season’s themes of depression and misery.

What’s worse is that no attempt is made to follow through on the events of this episode. I once read a post on a Buffy forum which argued that the worst thing about Season 6 was that none of the issues it raised were ever dealt with in Season 7. I think this is true. If you’re going to take the entire cast to the depths of despair, you have to show them overcoming it, not pretend it never happened. This is the problem with Xander and Anya. Their relationship has been building for three years now, and all that happens is that they are split up, go through a few episodes of bitterness, and then that’s it. Nothing. They just melt away into the background.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. These are not problems with Hell’s Bells per se. If they were, the final rating would almost certainly be into negative figures. Regardless of what comes later, this episode, whether taken on its own or as one of 144 interconnected episodes, is a piece of god-awful crap that I will never watch again. And the bad news is that the misery isn’t over, not by a long shot.

Overall rating: 1/10.

Next time: Normal Again.

 
Posted: Thursday, September 21, 2006 at 9:20 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 15: As You Were

DVD

Written and Directed by Douglas Petrie

And Buffy sinks to yet another low. I’m serious, but is anyone actually enjoying this any more? The performances are comprised of nothing but the barest essentials, the direction is so perfunctory that I can only imagine Douglas Petrie - whose episodes used to be so fun - was in autopilot, and the audience… well, I’m sure someone out there likes this episode, but it’s not a position I can even begin to fathom.

This week, Riley shows up in town with his new wife on tow, on the trail of a demon. Why, you may ask? Presumably to contrast his got-together new lifestyle with Buffy’s, to show how totally screwed up she is. All well and good, but, as was recently pointed out to me, could they have picked a worse character to do this with? When Riley left Sunnydale in Season 5, he was the king of all fuck-ups, allowing vampires to feed on him and offering Buffy the sort of “convince me not to leave you” ultimatum that is hardly a solid foundation for any relationship. And yet, despite leaving Sunnydale an absolute wreck, and despite apparently having taken a year to get over Buffy (roughly the same amount of time he’s been gone), he seems to have got himself back into gear, picked up a new wife, and been happily married for four months. Huh?

Tack on an utterly stupid plot involving Spike being some sort of demon egg trafficker, which makes absolutely no sense and is never referenced again, not to mention the sheer unbelievability of Riley taking Buffy on a demon hunt and not bothering to tell her that he wants it alive (this is Buffy, whose profession is to kill demons, we’re talking about), and I find myself wondering if anyone bothered doing any quality control on this episode. It feels like the first draft of a hastily-penned filler episode, and yet I know for a fact that Marc Blucas’s guest return was being heralded as a big deal long before it happened, so I find it hard to believe they just pulled this one out of their asses.

Overall rating: 2/10.

Next time: Hell’s Bells.

 
Posted: Thursday, September 21, 2006 at 8:01 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

DVD status update

I’m now precisely half-way through entering the data for my new and improved version of the DVDs section (265 out of 530 titles). It’s taking me considerably longer than I would like (I’ve been at it since 10 am this morning, believe it or not), and it’s one of the few things that I can safely say is more boring than a religious service, but it will hopefully pay off in the end. I’ll probably work my way up to the 300th title today, then give it a rest. Hopefully it’ll be done by the end of Saturday, or Sunday at the latest.

Update, September 22, 2006 01:57 AM: I stuck at it for longer than I was expecting to and have completed up to and including DVD number 460 (Land of the Dead), leaving me only 70 titles to go. Now I’m definitely calling it a night!

Update #2, December 19, 2006 10:42 PM: Fixed dead link.

 
Posted: Thursday, September 21, 2006 at 3:56 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: DVD | Web
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 14: Older and Far Away

DVD

Written by Drew Z. Greenberg; Directed by Michael Gershman

Yet another of those “the gang get trapped in an enclosed space and are forced to openly confront their issues” episode, and, due to the fact that it revolves around the insufferably whiny Dawn, not a good one. Oh, and the writers suddenly remember that they decided to make Dawn a kleptomaniac several episodes ago, because, you know, she’s a Tearaway Trouble Teen! Jeez, I just don’t care, okay? And this is yet another episode in which we are given the impression, at the end, that the situation has improved, that Buffy and Dawn’s relationship has overcome a major hurdle… and yet, the very next week, they’re back to square one again.

Random good moments: yes, this episode is mildly funny at times. Tara’s comments to Spike (“You’ve got a cramp… in your pants?”) make me smile, especially given that they show a hitherto unseen side to the character, and I like Clem, the demon with skin like a Shar-Pei. Still, all of that kind of pales into insignificance when you have to put up with another round of “Get out, get out, get ouuuuuut!”

Overall rating: 4/10.

Next time: As You Were.

 
Posted: Wednesday, September 20, 2006 at 8:03 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 13: Dead Things

DVD

Written by Steven S. DeKnight; Directed by James A. Contner

This episode isn’t perfect, but it’s a big step up from the ones directly preceeding it. It’s perhaps the darkest episode of the entire season, but it’s handled considerably more competently than many of its brethren. Chiefly, it tips the Trio over the edge from comic book dork villains into actual murderers (actually, manslaughter is a more appropriate label for the crime they commit) who try to pin the blame on Buffy. This may indeed be Buffy at her lowest ebb, not only being bum-raped by Spike (and I can’t think of any other way to describe what happens, given that she quite clearly says “Don’t” and yet he persists in buggering her), but also believing herself to be guilty of murder and being willing to hand herself into the police.

The inconsistent characterisation of Spike is the biggest problem here. One moment he’s a cold-blooded killer who wants to do everything he can to make Buffy feel worthless, pulling her down to his level as it were, and the next moment he’s taking care of her, doing everything he can to persuade her not to turn herself into the police, and even concealing the body. Obviously, this is to some extent appropriate to a character who, despite being devoid of a soul, is clearly capable of doing good deeds, but it’s frustrating nonetheless, and it shows the extent to which the writers are no longer able to stick to the basics of their own mythology. In the past, they’ve clearly stated that a creature without a soul can never be good, because they’re incapable of feeling compassion for others, but Spike’s behaviour continually contradicts this. (He did, after all, stick around and fight alongside the gang all summer when Buffy was, as far as he was aware, dead for good, so such behaviour could hardly be considered an attempt to get into her pants.) It’s amazing to say, but, bum-rape and all, Spike is actually the more appealing character at the moment, and the scene in which Buffy all but beats him to a pulp in an alleyway shows just what a repugnant person she has become.

The best scenes in the episode are those with Tara, who, unlike the rest of the main characters, is still her old self and not a whiny, self-obsessed automaton (of course, this is only so Joss Whedon can manipulate the audience’s emotions further in a few episodes’ time when he needlessly kills her off). Her chance encounter with Willow outside the Magic Box is well-written, and her non-judgemental response when Buffy confesses to her what she and Spike are getting up to reminds me why I like her so much. By the way, the final scene, in which Buffy, unable to believe that there’s nothing wrong with herself, begs Tara not to forgive her, is horrible to watch, but extremely powerful. (She gets Tara to do some tests, because she’s convinced that the reason Spike can hurt her without his chip kicking in is because she’s come back as some sort of demon or creature of darkness. Discovering that she is, in fact, just the same old Buffy only makes things worse for her, because in her eyes it means there’s no “excuse” for what she’s been getting up to with Spike.)

Overall rating: 7/10.

Next time: Older and Far Away.

 
Posted: Wednesday, September 20, 2006 at 7:06 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 12: Doublemeat Palace

DVD

Written by Jane Espenson; Directed by Nick Marck

Wow, this episode is even worse than I remembered it. It’s hard to believe that Jane Espenson, who wrote great episodes like Band Candy and Earshot, churned out this tedious stinker about the thrills of working in fast food. And once again I’m wanting to know why Buffy has to work while Willow, who’s still living in her house, can lounge about all day trying not to take drugs… I mean trying not to do spells. And why does Buffy have to work in the lowest-paid, most unpleasant job possible? Oh, that’s right, because this season demands that everyone be as miserable as possible. Hey - why doesn’t she get Amy or Tara to magic some dollar bills into existence? If you can turn a man into a dancing strawberry, I’m sure creating money is a doddle.

Other complaints: the interaction between Anya and her vengeance demon buddy Halfrek feels like something out of those tenth-rate sitcoms like Will and Grace or Friends. And what’s with the running gag that Xander is greedy? I presume it has something to do with Nicholas Brendon’s noticeable weight gain, but really, it feels tired and desperate. It’s pretty clear that they’ve run out of interesting things to do with this character. And I’m really starting to notice how bored Sarah Michelle Gellar is getting. Not that I blame her - I’m sure anyone would eventually get sick of playing a character who barely so much as cracks a smile.

Overall rating: 2/10.

Next time: Dead Things.

 
Posted: Wednesday, September 20, 2006 at 5:58 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

A new and improved DVD collection

Right now, I’m in the process of doing something that I’ve wanted to do for ages: convert my DVD Collection page into weblog format. This is something I’ve been hankering to do for a good year and a half for two reasons. First of all, it means no more continual manual editing and uploading of static HTML pages. Secondly, it gives me an automated archival system. Using categories to stand in for years of purchase, I can have a full database of all the DVDs I’ve bought in a specific year, while the main page will list only the most recently purchased DVDs. Basically, it all makes things a whole lot easier for me. I tried to do this back in June 2005 when I switched to Blogger as my publishing platform, but had to abandon the experiment because it simply didn’t give me the flexibility I needed to pull it off. Luckily, Movable Type, while considerably more complicated, is also considerably more flexible, thus allowing me to manipulate it to do something that it was probably never intended for.

I’m a long way from being finished yet, but you’re welcome to head over and have a look at the placeholder index I’ve created. When I’m done adding all my DVDs (and HD DVDs) to the database, I’ll overwrite the old-style collection with it.

Edited to remove dead link.

 
Posted: Wednesday, September 20, 2006 at 3:53 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: DVD | Web
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 11: Gone

DVD

Written and Directed by David Fury

At the start of this episode, Buffy and Dawn are clearing magical paraphernalia out of the Summers residence. This includes candles, and when Dawn objects, Buffy explains that “To you and me they’re just candles, but to witches they’re like bongs.” Um, since when? Oh, that’s right, since Wrecked.

This week, Buffy is turned invisible as a result of the Trio’s Invisible Ray (yeesh). It’s just like that Season 1 episode Out of Mind, Out of Sight, only Willow is slouching around like a depressed junkie, trying not to take any drugs… I mean do any spells; Buffy is hacking off her hair and having invisible sex with Spike; Dawn is whining and attacking Buffy for no apparent reason; and Giles is nowhere to be seen. Seriously, this is all different kinds of lame, the only funny part being the way everyone wants to hear about Buffy’s new haircut rather than her invisibility status. At least it’s not as bludgeoningly depressive as the previous episode, though - although that’s not exactly saying much.

What really annoys me about this episode, and so many of the ones that follow it, is that it ends with Buffy making an important step, claiming that she’s getting over her problems and no longer wanting to die. All well and good, but the problem is that, as soon as the next episode comes round, she’s right back where she started. Just gets a little repetitive after a while, is all.

Overall rating: 4/10.

Next time: Doublemeat Palace.

 
Posted: Tuesday, September 19, 2006 at 7:55 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Satan’s Slave

UK: Norman J. Warren, 1976

As you may remember, back in August I purchased a trio of British horror collections from Anchor Bay, among them The Norman Warren Collection. I put them to one side, because at the time I was knee-deep in the final draft of my dissertation, but now that that’s done and dusted, I decided to take a look, starting with the first film in the Warren box set, Satan’s Slave.

Satan's Slave

After a less than auspicious start, consisting of the generic murder of a generic victim, Satan’s Slave pleasantly surprised me. It’s not masterpiece, to be sure, but it’s a competently-made supernatural horror film with an impressively spooky atmosphere. The plot deals with a young woman, Catherine (Candace Glendenning), who, on the cusp of turning 20, witnesses the fiery death by exploding car (!) of her parents, on the very doorstep of the house of her uncle Alexander (Michael Gough). Kindly Uncle Al takes the bizarelly untraumatised Catherine into the fold, but it soon turns out that he, his wacky son Stephen (Martin Potter) and his secretary Frances (Barbara Kellerman) have a sinister ulterior motive in adopting her as their own.

It’s all a bit uneven: the script makes a major bungle by revealing the malicious nature of Alexander and Stephen within the opening ten minutes, and a lot of the dialogue is of a risible standard. The performances are also rather hit and miss, although Candace Glendenning, who seems to have all but disappeared after making this film, makes an appealing and at times resourceful heroine, with her wide eyes and raven hair, while the inimitable Michael Gough makes the most of his distinctive and powerful voice in the role of her malevolent uncle.

Satan's Slave

The film also benefits from some truly impressive cinematography (a grand total of five cameramen are credited, of whom Les Young seems to have been the chief), which makes the English countryside seem like a genuinely haunted place, while John Scott’s score is pleasantly ominous, if a tad hokey. Unfortunately, some of the gore effects are more than a little cringe-worthy: it’s clear that Warren doesn’t know when to hold back, leering over the effects in extreme close-up and revealing just how fake-looking they truly are. This is especially true of the rubbery-looking flesh used for brandings and slicings, while an otherwise well-directed suicide features a lumps of pink-looking putty, presumably signifying the victim’s innards, bulging out of various orifices.

Still, I enjoyed Satan’s Slave. I’ve always had a thing for supernatural horror, especially of the demonic possession variety, and this one is well-executed. It’s rather predictable, and the budgetary constraints are at times all too visible, but it’s a good, solid effort with a palpable sense of dread - which, in a horror film, is almost always the most important feature.

7/10

On a side note, the transfer for this film is pretty shockingly bad. I know it’s old, and low budget, and obscure, and all those things, but really, there’s no excuse for it looking the way it does. Half the time is resembles one of those dodgy camcorded movies.

 
Posted: Tuesday, September 19, 2006 at 6:04 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

Eugenie

Spain/West Germany: Jess Franco, 1970

Back in 2003, I happened to see a film by a Spanish director by the name of Jesus “Jess” Franco. The film in question was Justine, and I’m sorry to say I thought it was so bad that I didn’t make it beyond the opening half-hour. This was when my Euro-cult craze was still in its infancy (the only such films I’d seen were around a third of Dario Argento’s catalogue), and I realise that Franco has a rather formidable following among such circles. Therefore, recently, when I was doing a little borrowing and trading with other Euro-cult fanatics, I decided to give Franco another go, with his 1970 film Eugenie.

Eugenie

It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that Eugenie and Justine are pretty similar films. In addition to sharing a director, a writer/producer (Harry Alan Towers) and a composer (Bruno Nicolai, he of so many gialli), they are both based on the writings of the Marquis de Sade and have a similar narrative theme of an innocent young woman embarking on a series of sexual adventures, many of them sadomasochistic. As such, Eugenie is somewhere between a character drama and an exploitation/porn hybrid, although the fact that it takes itself seriously and places no small amount of emphasis on the narrative means that, as one reviewer put it, it’s as far from a Skinemax flick as you can possibly get.

Be of no doubt, though, that this is far from a classic. Not much of note really happens, and the whole thing seems to come to an abrupt end long before it should. Franco’s attempts to blend fantasy with reality are also not particularly successful, and, to be honest, there’s only so much canoodling and breast-fondling I can take before I start looking for something more substantial. And yet, Eugenie’s technical qualities set it apart from most films of this sort. Franco had a decent (at least by his standards) budget with this film, and you can tell that every penny ended up on the screen. Shot in anamorphic Technovision, it consistently looks sumptuous, making excellent use of the picturesque island location and, in the more hallucinatory sequences, various dye filters. And the final moments, which show the naked, degraded Eugenie stumbling through sand dunes and along deserted country roads, are haunting in their sheer beauty. Unfortunately, a number of scenes are sullied by being so out of focus that I’m amazed Franco never re-shot them.

Eugenie

The film also has an interesting cast, headed by Marie Liljedahl as the young Eugenie who, while not exactly a first-class thespian, is game for anything and handles the character’s innocence well. Her transition from innocent wallflower to sullied damsel never really convinced me, though, as she does little to show any sort of change in her character. The sultry Maria Rohm is also on fine form, and the sheer shock of seeing Christopher Lee in such a dirty picture is well worth the price of admission. (Apparently, he had no idea what sort of film he was appearing in until he saw the final cut, but, looking at the scenes in which he appears, I’m not entirely convinced by this claim.)

In the final analysis, therefore, Franco is a better filmmaker than I previously assumed him to be. The subject matter isn’t really to my liking, but here he clearly demonstrates a decent ability behind the camera if given an appropriate budget. For all its faults, I’m not sorry to have watched it, and I’ll be less hasty to avoid this director’s output in the future.

6/10

 
Posted: Tuesday, September 19, 2006 at 5:40 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli | Reviews
 

PS3 games to come with free Blu-ray movies?

Blu-ray

Source: High-Def Digest

Industry insiders are suggesting that Sony will be bundling free Blu-ray movies along with game releases. No, you didn’t read that wrong: they’re not bundling them with the console itself, but along with games. I’m starting to smell the strench of desperation. “Buy Sonic the Hedgehog and get a free copy of the classic Little Man!” as Lyris put it.

On a related note, Engadget is reporting that Warner Home Video have apparently come up with a means of creating a triple format HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD disc. This doesn’t mean that the same data can be read by both players, but rather, much like the HD DVD/DVD combo discs being offered by Warner and Universal for some titles, that multiple differently formatted layers are included. This is certainly an extremely interesting development, but I have to wonder how many studios are likely to pay the licensing costs for three formats, as well as the unavoidable increase in manufacturing costs.

 
Posted: Tuesday, September 19, 2006 at 12:10 AM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Games | HD DVD | Technology
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 10: Wrecked

DVD

Written by Marti Noxon; Directed by David Solomon

There’s nothing I can say about Wrecked that hasn’t already been said in Boils and Blinding Torment’s review, so I highly recommend you give it a look. I’ll be making a lot of the same points, but with a lot less class.

If last week was Sabrina Week, this week is After-School Special Week, with the pompous moralising and condescension that go with such matters. This is the episode that really sets the show off on its downward spiral, pushing the characters into the darkest, most depressing places possible.

A lot of Season 6’s defenders claim that those who dislike it simply can’t handle the darkness and seriousness, but to that I say “bollocks”. Nothing in Season 6 is profound, or mature, or anything like that: it’s just angsty for the sake of being angsty, depressing for the sake of being depressing, and filled with as much sex and near-nudity as possible simply because UPN were less strict about that sort of thing than the WB.

It’s also the episode in which magic for some reason becomes equated with drug addiction. The problem with this is that there is no precedent for it. We’ve seen that the power that magic endows in a user can be addictive, which is fine - but, to quote one fan at the BuffyGuide forums, here there isn’t even a metaphor, just a poor analogy. Magic isn’t a metaphor for drug addiction: it is drug addiction, complete with magic dealers, magic houses, and Willow shivering on her bed as she goes through withdrawal symptoms.

I wouldn’t mind the complete bastardisation of the series’ internal consistency if it had actually been enjoyable to watch. But, no, instead it’s as boring as hell and infuriatingly condescending (did I mention that already?). We’re treated to lots of oh-so-serious talk about how Willow’s acting different and going through all sorts of stuff, Willow endangering Dawn in her careless drug-induced frenzy, Willow sobbing “I need heeeeelp!”, and me banging my head on the desk. To tell the truth, I’m reminded of the Drugs episode of Brass Eye and its portrayal of the effects of Cake. This is getting points only for Alyson Hannigan’s performance, which somehow manages to rise above the material in the final scenes. By the end of the season, when she, like Sarah Michelle Gellar, seemed to get completely fed up, even that would fade away.

If you want to know what so many viewers’ beef with Marti Noxon is, just watch this episode. This is not entertainment, and I’m getting absolutely no pleasure out of watching it. It’s like a kick in the face to everyone who stuck with this show for five and a half long years.

Overall rating: 2/10.

Next time: Gone.

 
Posted: Monday, September 18, 2006 at 9:28 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 9: Smashed

DVD

Written by Drew Z. Greenberg; Directed by Turi Meyer

In this episode, Buffy turns into Sabrina the Teenage Witch. The sight of Willow snapping her fingers and turning men into giant dancing strawberries has got to rank as one of the most risible moments in the series’ entire seven-year run. Still, Sabrina Willow is better than crack whore Willow, who emerges in the next episode.

The Trio appear again, pulling off some sort of tedious jewel heist with the aid of a freeze ray. I’ve never been a fan of Buffy’s appropriation of comic book “technology” - magic and vampires I have no problem with, but for some reason things like freeze rays just don’t work for me. And don’t even get me started on the scene where they fawn over their Boba Fett figurine. This is the sort of writing I’d expect from a third-rate sitcom.

Spike also discovers that the chip in his brain no longer kicks in when he hits Buffy: a byproduct, it would seem, of her having been brought back to life via unnatural means. Unfortunately, the episode ends with the pair of them having sex in a house, whose very foundations collapse as a metaphor for the destructive nature of their relationship. The scene in question, as it happens, was investigated for “indecency” by the FCC, the watchdog body in charge of regulating American television. If you ask me, the only indecent thing about it is the complete lack of subtlety in the metaphor.

Overall rating: 5/10.

Next time: Wrecked.

 
Posted: Monday, September 18, 2006 at 7:41 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 8: Tabula Rasa

DVD

Written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner; Directed by David Grossman

In a season of doom, gloom and sheer boredom, I’m amazed they managed to come up with something this fun. It’s one of those traditional “memory loss” episodes, but I always find these appealing, as they help break up the monotony and allow the characters to do and say things they normally wouldn’t. I especially enjoy Giles and Anya jumping to the conclusion that they’re a couple (because they own the Magic Box together), and Giles and Spike believing that they’re father and son. It’s also very nicely photographed, considering how flat and mundane most of the rest of the season looks. Marks off, though, for the incredibly hokey villain: a loan shark who… you guessed it, is a shark. Yeesh.

It must be said that, for all its strengths, this episode sets in motion some of the worst aspects of the season.

Number 1: it’s the episode in which Giles leaves, and it’s amazing how integral he was to the show’s success. Take him out, and it feels like there’s a huge gap. The writers, to their credit, admitted that they didn’t realise how much the show would suffer without him till it was too late, and as a result made the most of Anthony Head’s limited availability in Season 7 by spacing his appearances out better (not that it helped, though, because they utterly desecrated the character in that season). Another problem is the complete lack of logic in Giles’ decision to leave: he’s just learned that Buffy was pulled out of Heaven (rather than Hell) by her friends, and despite her needing him now more than ever, he simply walks out on her. I know Anthony Head was going to leave either way, but you’d think the writers could have come up with a better excuse.

Number 2: they split Willow and Tara up. I’m not one to proclaim my undying love for TV relationships (believe it or not, I think there’s more to a character than who they happen to be having sex with), but I like this one. It’s believable and realistic, and Alyson Hannigan and Amber Benson have considerable chemistry. Tara’s leaving deprives the show of a great character (although she does pop up here and there until her short-lived reunion with Willow later in the season), and turns Willow into a shell of her former self, to the point that she becomes a whiny, self-obsessed junkie (more on that in my review of the deplorable Wrecked).

Number 3: at the end of the episode, Buffy and Spike get together. The two shared a sweeping Hollywood smooch at the end of Once More, With Feeling, but this is the episode in which the relationship gets underway. I’ll explain in the reviews of subsequent episodes precisely why I dislike it so much.

Given all these negatives, I’m slightly surprised to be rating the episode so highly. When all said and done, though, while this episode sets up many of the season’s biggest problems, they don’t really begin “for real” until the next episode. This is really the last time we see the whole gang together, so it’s a moment to savour.

Overall rating: 8/10.

Next time: Smashed.

 
Posted: Monday, September 18, 2006 at 6:35 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 7: Once More, With Feeling

DVD

Written and Directed by Joss Whedon

This is the last great hoorah of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it’s strong and unique enough to give me reason to reconsider my desire to consign the final two seasons to the scrap heap. In this very special episode, a spell is cast that causes the inhabitants of Sunnydale to pour out their hearts in song, saying everything that they otherwise wouldn’t dare to say. As such, with its literalism and pushing of the subtext out into the open, it’s very much a Season 6 episode, but it’s handled with enough skill here for me to wonder if the season would have worked after all has Joss Whedon been in charge of it. (This was the only episode he wrote and/or directed during this season, with Marti Noxon handling day-to-day showrunning responsibilities, although Whedon undoubtedly signed off on everything that made it to the screen.)

Tacky as it sounds, it’s an undeniable hoot to see the cast members stretching their vocal muscles. Everyone provides their own voice for the musical numbers (Sarah Michelle Gellar was originally going to be dubbed, but she changed her mind when she read the lyrics and saw how integral they were to the characters), and some sing more than others depending on their relative talent. Gellar has the hardest time, since, as the lead, she obviously has to do a fair amount of singing. She’s not great, but she’s considerably better than I expected. In comparison, Alyson Hannigan and Michelle Trachtenberg are pretty bad, but thankfully only get a couple of lines here and there, while Nicholas Brendon and Emma Caulfield sing like troopers and generally do far better than one would expect. Unsurprisingly, it is the three cast members who have sung in a professional capacity - Anthony Head, Amber Benson and James Marsters - who impress most.

Bad points? Well, as unique as it is, it’s not a bona fide classic like Hush or Restless, and that’s because, despite how high it aims, it doesn’t always succeed. Giles’ sudden decision not to help Buffy, after Dawn has been kidnapped, lacks motivation (yes, we know he feels that, by always being there to prop her up, he’s “standing in the way”, but her sister has just been kidnapped by a demon from the depths of Hell, for god’s sake). Likewise, the revelation that Xander summoned the music demon (Xander casting a spell - pull the other one) and then didn’t say anything, despite it resulting in fatalities, is so out of character it’s laughable. Additionally, the inconsistent quality of the vocal performances does jar at times, while a sequence in which Marti Noxon actually appears on screen to sing about getting a parking ticket is the kind of self-indulgent crap that I highly doubt she would have submitted to had she known that, a few episodes down the line, jaded viewers would be baying for her blood. It’s ultimately the best episode of the final two seasons, though, and, although I said I never wanted to see these last two years of Buffy ever again, I would be willing to make an exception for this episode.

Overall rating: 9/10.

Next time: Tabula Rasa.

 
Posted: Sunday, September 17, 2006 at 10:15 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Music | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 6: All the Way

DVD

Written by Steven S. DeKnight; Directed by David Solomon

In this episode, Dawn goes out on a date with a boy… who turns out to be a vampire! No, not the most stunningly original premise ever, but at least this episode has a decent enough sense of humour, something that will disappear all too soon. It also has a nicely choreographed fight scene, in which even Giles gets to practice some slick moves. When did he become so adept at staking?

Besides that, Dawn turns into a shoplifter in this episode, presumably because in this, the season in which everyone gets so monumentally screwed up, something has to go wrong with her life (apart from losing her mother, then her sister, then getting her sister back and discovering that she’d rather be dead, that is).

Overall rating: 6/10.

Next time: Once More, With Feeling.

 
Posted: Sunday, September 17, 2006 at 9:33 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 
 

 
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