Buffy the Vampire Slayer


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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 19: Empty Places


Written by Drew Z. Greenberg; Directed by James. A Contner

The lameness of this episode is pretty much summed up in the scene in which the entire gang stand up against Buffy and throw her out of her own house. Fine, okay, I can just about swing that, although I have a hard time believing that the original crew would go so far as to turf her out, even if her actions last week did result in the loss of Xander’s eye. What I have a really hard time buying, though, is that they would then choose Faith as their leader. Faith, who not long ago was trying to kill them all. Perhaps I could accept the Potentials siding with the cool new Slayer who smokes and lets them indulge in underage drinking, but certainly not Willow, or Giles, or even Xander at this stage. Sorry, this is just bull.

Sorry I don’t have anything more to say about this. I’m simply getting so fed up that actually writing about what I’ve just watched is becoming a chore. Nothing much happens anyway. Skip to the final scene and you wouldn’t be missing anything important.

Overall rating: 2/10.

Next time: Touched.

Posted: Monday, October 09, 2006 at 3:28 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 18: Dirty Girls


Written by Drew Goddard; Directed by Michael Gershman

Last week, Giles tried to have Spike killed. This week, they’re sharing a house and, barring one brief mention of it, seem to have forgotten about it all. Oh well.

Anyway, in this episode, we learn that Buffy makes crappy choices as a leader. Which is all well and good, but for the fact that, for the last seven years, she’s actually been a pretty good leader. Her having to be a tactician and take other people’s lives into her hands is nothing new, but the writers, for some reason, now decide to make out that it is. This week, she leads the whole gang into what is obviously a trap and ends up getting some Potentials killed and Xander’s eye ripped out. Once again, Buffy suddenly becomes a useless general because the plot requires the rest of the gang to decide she isn’t up to the task and kick her out. Although quite why the writers felt the need to do this is anyone’s guess, because a couple of episodes later she’s back in the fold and none of the arguments are ever addressed.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. With five episodes to go, the writers suddenly decide to introduce a new villain, a mad southern priest called Caleb. I’m guessing they suddenly realised that a main villain who couldn’t actually touch anything wasn’t all that great, so they bring in yet another bad buy with superhuman strength who can toss Buffy around like a ragdoll. Great, except pretty much every supervillain ever introduced has been able to do this, so it’s sort of old hat. Caleb also exists to give another of Joss Whedon’s Firefly actors, Nathan Fillion, a job. In interviews and commentaries, Whedon goes on and on about what an amazing actor he is, but I’m not seeing it. Sure, he’s competent, but he’s nothing special.

Overall rating: 4/10.

Next time: Empty Places.

Posted: Monday, October 09, 2006 at 3:00 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV

Angel: Season 4, Episodes 13, 14 and 15: Salvage/Release/Orpheus


Written by David Fury; Directed by Jefferson Kibbee

Written by Steven S. DeKnight, Elizabeth Craft & Sarah Fain; Directed by James A. Contner

Written by Mere Smith; Directed by Terrence O’Hara

Based on these three episodes of Angel, I’m convinced that the goings-on during the season of 2002-2003 were considerably better in Los Angeles than in Sunnydale. Okay, so you get some bad ideas, like the dodgy and mildly-incestuous relationship between Cordelia and Connor (not literally, because they’re not blood relatives, but she always struck me as something of the mother figure in the unofficial Angel Investigations family), not to mention the crummy Jasmine storyline that was thrown in late in the game only so Joss Whedon could give another of his Firefly actors a job after that show was cancelled. Still, it’s a hell of a lot more potent and focused than Buffy’s seventh season. It’s considerably better shot (by many of the same directors who were doing such an indifferent job on Buffy), the actors seem to be more engaged, and there’s genuine character development instead of people just saying and doing whatever will service the plot. Plus, who couldn’t like the new, super-cool Wesley, with his designer stubble, sawn-off shotgun and no-nonsense attitude? This is one character who’s certainly come an extremely long way since he was first introduced to the Buffyverse.

I also notice that a genuine effort is made to build on the theme of redemption that was a big issue for Faith back in Season 1 of Angel. She’s only on the show for three episodes this season, but she gets considerably more character development than she does in Buffy’s five, where she does little more than get it on with Wood and say “yo” a lot. Additionally, in her brief guest stint in the third episode, Willow seems more alive than she does at any point on Buffy this year. It’s bizarre, but Mere Smith, who had never written the character before, manages to portray Willow’s “voice” with considerably more skill than those who had been writing her for years. Granted, the Willow that appears on Angel has a lot more in common with Buffy Seasons 1-3 Willow than the less quirky one that emerged later on, but I’m willing to forgive that given that, for the first time in ages, Alyson Hannigan actually seems to be enjoying playing the character. Her scenes with Wesley (Hannigan is married to Alexis Denisof in real life) are also nice, in an in-joke sort of way. I should also point out that it’s kind of embarrassing how much more chemistry she has with Amy Acker (Fred) than Iyari Limon (Kennedy), despite the fact that they only get a couple of scenes together. If they had to pair Willow up with anyone during the final season of Buffy (short of bringing Tara back), it should have been her.

What’s not forgiveable, though, is the ease with which Willow performs the re-ensoulment spell. Given that, on Buffy, it’s been stressed that she has a hard time performing even the most basic enchantments without threatening to slide back into Dark Willow mode, it’s a major oversight that she seems able to pull off one of the most complicated spells in existence here without batting an eyelid.

Overall rating: 8/10 for Salvage, and 7/10 for Release and Orpheus.

Next time: back to Buffy for Dirty Girls.

Posted: Sunday, October 08, 2006 at 7:15 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 17: Lies My Parents Told Me


Written by David Fury and Drew Goddard; Directed by David Fury

Can someone explain why it is that it’s taken until now for Wood to decide to do something about Spike, despite learning, three episodes ago, that Spike killed his mother (the New York subway Slayer we saw in Fool For Love)? Still, now I know why the writers made Spike’s chip malfunction: so he would be able to rough Wood up in this episode. Yet another perfect example of “the plot is all that matters”. (Kind of sounds a bit like Buffy’s “the mission is all that matters mantra, no?)

The character assassination of Giles continues in this episode, with him conspiring against Buffy with Wood in order to set Spike up. Never mind that Giles was so distraught over betraying her trust in Helpless that I couldn’t imagine him ever doing anything like that again - the only reason Buffy slams the door on Giles at the end of this episode, telling him that he has nothing left to teach her, is so Whedon can shove his trite “girl power” message down our throats in the final episode. Because it wouldn’t do for anyone other than Slayer Spice to be in the right, would it? Instead, Giles reverts back to being a crusty old fuddy-duddy, just like the Watchers’ Council he spent the last few years rebelling against. Check out his wacky horrified reaction to the new computer-driven Sunnydale High library - it’s like Season 1 all over again! I know the writers said they were going “back to the beginning”, but I didn’t realise until now that that also meant throwing away seven years’ worth of character development.

Still, this is a better episode than most of the ones that have preceded it, although once again it focuses on new characters like Wood (and Spike, who isn’t exactly new, but isn’t one of the original characters) at the expense of the “core four” (Buffy, Willow, Giles and Xander). Actually I don’t believe Xander, Dawn and Anya even appear in this episode except as background props, and Willow’s only substantial contribution is to say that she’s heading over to LA to help Angel Investigations out. Speaking of which, I’m going to watch the three episodes of Angel’s fourth season in which Faith appears (and Willow, in the third), which will hopefully be better than the dreck the Buffy crew have been serving up of late.

Overall rating: 5/10.

Next time: over to Angel for three episodes, then back for Dirty Girls.

Posted: Sunday, October 08, 2006 at 4:39 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 16: Storyteller


Written by Jane Espenson; Directed by Marita Grabiak

You guys know how much I like Andrew, right? Well, imagine how much I love a whole episode framed around him! That’s right, not much at all. Why is it that, with only six episodes to go until the end of the series, the writers are wasting time on this annoying, whiny, self-absorbed brat who should never have been included in the show in the first place? And the Hellmouth is closed by his tears… What the hell is this crap?

Overall rating: 2/10.

Next time: Lies My Parents Told Me.

Posted: Sunday, October 08, 2006 at 3:43 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 15: Get it Done


Written and Directed by Douglas Petrie

I’ve said it before, but the title of this episode is thoroughly apt. You can literally feel the boredom of those involved permeating throughout. I don’t care what anyone says about her demeanour being appropriate given her character’s situation - Sarah Michelle Gellar is sleepwalking through her role, the lighting is so flat it practically looks like someone’s home movie (granted, a home movie shot on 35mm, but still), and the writing is so uninspired that people literally just stand about talking about how terrible it’s going to be when the First starts its master plan, despite the fact that we’ve seen fuck-all except something that can take the form of dead people and bore people to death with its speeches.

Oh, and because Anthony Head wasn’t around for this episode (again, Giles’s absence is unexplained), Dawn can conveniently speak ancient Sumerian. Although, given the way Giles was behaving towards Chao-An in the previous episode, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’d conveniently forgotten ancient Sumerian too. By the way, why is Kennedy now training the Potentials? Isn’t that Giles’s job, or Buffy’s?

Overall rating: 3/10.

Next time: Storyteller.

Posted: Sunday, October 08, 2006 at 2:56 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 14: First Date


Written by Jane Espenson; Directed by David Grossman

The first time I saw this episode was when it aired on BBC2. Back then, I was suffering from a bad case of food poisoning, or some sort of infection, and I ended up falling asleep half-way through it. Watching it again for the first time today, it looks like I didn’t miss much.

This episode begins the character assassination of Giles. Specifically, his treatment of the Chinese slayer Chao-An, which is so ignorant that it borders on racism and is completely out of character for someone who is supposed to be a well-travelled and intelligent person with a solid grasp of at least six languages. Not that Cantonese is necessarily one of these languages, but his “You - new - here, you - no - speak - English” (okay, I’m paraphrasing, but that’s about the level of it) routine is insulting. Once again they sacrifice character for a one-shot joke.

Otherwise, this episode is as throwaway as they come. Xander goes out on a date with a girl… who turns out to be a demon! How unusual! That’s never happened to him before! If this is what passes for character development I’m not surprised Nicholas Brendon said he only stayed on the show because he needed the money. Worse still, the demon in question is played by some pop star called Ashanti, who can’t act to save her life.

Also, I’ve said it before, why in the hell is the murderer Andrew allowed to live in Buffy’s house and not be held accountable for his actions? Then again, I suppose he’s right at home with Willow, Spike and Anya.

Overall rating: 2/10.

Next time: Get it Done.

Posted: Sunday, October 08, 2006 at 2:07 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 13: The Killer in Me


Written by Drew Z. Greenberg; Directed by David Solomon

In this episode, Willow turns into Warren after kissing Kennedy, because… I don’t know, something about her feeling guilty about flaying him. Oh no, wait, Amy did it because… I don’t know, I stopped caring when Willow started getting it on with the first lesbian who crossed her path. Have these writers got no respect for the integrity of their characters?

Normally I quite like these body-switch episodes. Who Are You?, for example, was brilliant, with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku playing each other with considerable accuracy. This time round, though, it doesn’t work, because Adam Busch makes no attempt to adopt any of Alyson Hannigan’s mannerisms. He simply plays it as Warren, and as a result it just seems incredibly hokey.

Additionally, Spike’s chip stops working and Buffy has to seek out the Initiative to sort things out. I’m not sure why it begins malfunctioning - presumably so Buffy can ask for it to be removed and further drive a wedge between her and Giles, because the plot requires that he disapprove. Again, not sure why. Oh, and we also get a thoroughly anticlimactic end to the “Is Giles the First?” puzzle. Turns out that he isn’t - he just wasn’t touching anything or anyone because… sorry, again, can’t answer that.

Overall rating: 2/10.

Next time: First Date.

Posted: Saturday, October 07, 2006 at 7:27 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 12: Potential


Written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner; Directed by James A. Contner

This is going to be a really short review, because there’s nothing remotely entertaining going on here. The show is just treading water. Buffy spends the whole episode making lame speeches! Andrew’s being annoying again! Dawn’s getting ignored by everyone again - how Season 6 of them! And we have a turgid story about Dawn thinking she’s a Potential, only it turns out the Potential is actually someone else from her class. I guess that’s the potential “Dawn the Vampire Slayer” spin-off dead and buried.

Oh yeah, and Buffy claims the Slayer line runs through her. As I pointed out in my review of the previous episode, it doesn’t. Just saying that it does multiple times doesn’t change what’s already been established.

Overall rating: 3/10.

Next time: The Killer in Me.

Posted: Saturday, October 07, 2006 at 5:50 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 11: Showtime


Written by David Fury; Directed by Michael Grossman

Another generic and almost completely forgettable episode. More annoying Potentials show up, more whinging from all on sundry, more speeches from General Buffy… And Giles and Anya visit a demon named Beljoxa’s Eye, who says the First Evil has been given the chance to put its plan into action because the line of the Chosen (i.e. the Slayers) has been altered, apparently as a result of Buffy’s resurrection. Um, yes, but it’s been shown already that the line no longer goes through Buffy but through Faith. If it had continued to go through Buffy after her first death at the end of Season 1, Kendra wouldn’t have been called in Season 2, and therefore neither would Faith in Season 3. The fact that a new Slayer wasn’t called when Buffy died at the end of Season 5 only compounds this. Therefore, the writers are once again ignoring their own canon simply so they can make the plot do what they want it to. If the change in the line of the Chosen was what the First Evil needed, it would have sets its plan into action at the end of Season 1 - but, of course, it didn’t.

Theoretically, it would be entirely possible to ignore errors like this, in much the same way that it was possible to ignore The Gift’s many instances of twisting the canon, but the fact that Season 7’s plot is so fundamentally uninteresting makes it difficult to simply gloss over this sort of thing. Note to writers: if you want to make your show all about the plot at the expense of character development, you’d better have an airtight plot. But no, instead we get the first of General Buffy’s many stupid ideas: last week, she fought the Ubervamp and it not only beat her but gave her a thoroughly good hammering. So this week, her grand plan is to… fight it again? What’s changed? Nothing more than the venue. She sends everyone to a construction yard where she faces the Ubervamp in an arena-style showdown - but what precisely is it that allows her to beat it this time, when she’s already injured, that she didn’t have last week at full health? Oh, she has an audience and a cool location for a fight. But she doesn’t have any advantage. She simply beats it because that’s what the script calls for. Someone really didn’t think this through.

Overall rating: 4/10.

Next time: Potential.

Posted: Saturday, October 07, 2006 at 4:59 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 10: Bring on the Night


Written by Marti Noxon and Douglas Petrie; Directed by David Grossman

Today, Giles shows up with a trio of girls in tow - Potentials, i.e. girls who could potentially be called as Slayers when the current one dies (and exactly who is the current Slayer is a matter that will be debated in a subsequent review). They’re incredibly annoying, and none more so than the pair with the most hideous Cockney accents known to mankind. I don’t get why, in what the writers must have, by this time, known was the final season, they decided to bring in a whole roster of new characters and give them more screen-time than the original characters.

One of these Potentials is a brash Hispanic lesbian called Kennedy. Her appearance signals that (a) the writers had abandoned any thought of trying to get Tara back, and (b) they’d decided that yes, Willow going to remain a lesbian. Back during the break between Seasons 6 and 7, Joss Whedon and Marti Noxon actually had meetings to discuss whether or not Willow would “stay gay”. (I’ve seen a made-for-TV documentary, seemingly recorded early during the production of Season 7, in which Noxon described Willow’s relationship with Tara as “college experimentation”!) Unfortunately, Kennedy is an absolutely awful addition to the cast, and it’s not even remotely plausible that Willow would be attracted to this type of person. The addition of this character was, clearly, an attempt by the writers to regain some of the “lesbo street cred” (to quote Tough Love) that they’d lost over the Tara debacle: “Oh, so you guys like lesbians, do you? Well, we’ll give you a new lesbian and Willow can have a steamy lesbian romance with her!” Way to miss the point, again. She’s there only so they can look a little better - a token gay relationship that isn’t going to end in death and destruction (although I’ve read some hilarious fanfics in which Kennedy is killed in a variety of gruesome ways). In all fairness, I feel sorry for the actress, Iyari Limon: she tries very hard, but this is not a gig I would have wished on anybody. But, ultimately, she and Alyson Hannigan have absolutely no chemistry together and their scenes together are uncomfortable in the extreme. The fan-written continuation of the series, The Chosen, actually performs the seemingly impossible task of making this character likeable, to the extent that, when she left at the end of the virtual Season 8, I was genuinely disappointed, but, ignoring fanfic and concentrating only on what exists on the screen, she’s a dead loss.

This episode also begins the “Is Giles the First?” subplot, a pointless little mislead that serves no actual purpose and is completely unbelievable. Basically, the idea is that Giles touches nothing and no-one touches him, which is intended to make the audience suspect that Giles is in fact dead and that the First has assumed his guise. The problem with this is that, like so much of Season 7, it makes no sense. Last time Giles showed up in Sunnydale, Buffy and Anya were all over him, which makes the extremely cold, non-touchy-feely manner in which everyone behaves when he appears at the door extremely strange. Ditto with the fact that, when Buffy falls into a hole, Giles doesn’t stop to help her out - he just kind of stands there. This is never explained and is a perfect example of the writers’ willingness to sacrifice character to service a pointless subplot.

Oh yeah, and why does the First have Spike tortured by holding his head underwater? Vampires don’t need to breathe, remember? Come to think of it, why is the First torturing Spike anyway? Because he didn’t do its bidding? I’d have thought it would have better things to do - like deal with all the Potentials showing up in Sunnydale.

Still, it’s not all hopeless. It’s good to see Drusilla again (the First assumes her form), and written considerably better than she was in Crush. Ditto with Joyce, who shows up in Buffy’s dreams.

Overall rating: 4/10.

Next time: Showtime.

Posted: Saturday, October 07, 2006 at 12:48 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 9: Never Leave Me


Written by Drew Goddard; Directed by David Solomon

Sorry these reviews have been so sporadic. It’s just so hard to get myself motivated to watch these episodes - there’s literally nothing compelling me to go from one to the other. At least Season 6 had a train-wreck quality to it, where I found myself eagerly ploughing through the episodes to see what new low the writers would sink to each week. Here, it’s all just… meh. It’s competently shot, but it’s generic, and there’s nothing happening on the screen to justify my time. We’ve seen it all before: Spike’s dangerous, he keeps being triggered by the First so they have to keep him chained up in the basement; Andrew is annoying and whiny; Xander, Willow, Dawn and Anya serve as set decoration. And what’s up with Wood secretly burying Jonathan’s body? My memory is hazy, but I don’t recollect this ever being explained.

And it gets worse. The very next episode introduces the horror of… the Potentials.

Overall rating: 4/10.

Next time: Bring on the Night.

Posted: Friday, October 06, 2006 at 11:54 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV

How it feels to be wanted

I got my first rejection letter yesterday. I never mentioned it, because, in the heat of the moment… well, I forgot, but I couple of weeks back I sent out a bunch of job applications. Two were to libraries, one was for a desk job at Strathclyde University’s modern languages department, and the other was to an online firm, Prospect Solution, where I will (hopefully) be writing essays, doing proofreading, and so on. (Hell, supply and demand - if people are willing to pay for it, I’m willing to do it!) I recently got a preliminary acceptance email for the Prospect Solution gig, but am holding off until the results for my MLitt come in before I send them my full details. In any event, it may turn out that it’s something that brings in little work and money, so I need to keep my options open.

Anyway, yesterday morning I got a rejection letter from the Glasgow School of Art’s library. “Dear Mr. Mackenzie, thanks for your application, but we regret to inform you that bla bla bla…” It’s fair enough, I suppose, and I’m all too aware that rejections are a necessary part of the process, but I wish that, in these circumstances, they would give some indicator of why you were turned down. Something like “Dear Mr. Mackenzie, there are other people better qualified than you,” or “Dear Mr. Mackenzie, we saw the picture that you included on your CV and would never employ someone has grotesque as yourself.” Then again, experience has taught me that employers have a habit of trying to let you down gently when they decide they don’t want you. I do, after all, speak with the experience of someone who is one of the few people ever to have been turned away by McDonalds. Much to my relief, I might add, but the spotty-faced deputy manager who interviewed me was typically cagey as to his reasons for rejecting me. He said something along the lines of “I don’t think you’d be right for McDonalds,” which I suspect is polite talk for “You wouldn’t last a minute in front of a deep fat fryer,” or “I actually wanted someone to work from midnight to 8 AM, but you weren’t having it.” Either way, it was a narrow escape.

Sorry, I seem to have gone a little off topic. Anyway, onwards and upwards. I’ll no doubt be firing off a fresh batch of applications before too long. And until someone offers me a job, I’m actually quite enjoying the unexpected leisure time. It’s allowing me to catch up on some of the things I like to do, namely writing reviews, watching movies and trawling my way through Season 7 of Buffy. Although, in the case of the latter, “like to do” is perhaps a bit of a stretch.

Posted: Thursday, October 05, 2006 at 1:04 AM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Cinema | General | Reviews | Web

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 8: Sleeper


Written by David Fury & Jane Espenson; Directed by Alan J. Levi

Spike has started walking around without his shirt on again. One can only assume that Marti Noxon has returned from maternity leave, presumably to take control of the show. Thing is, I liked it better when no-one was in charge, earlier on in the season. (And I truly believe that no-one was in charge. Joss Whedon was busy with Firefly, Noxon was squeezing out a brat, David Fury was - by his own admission - spending more time on Angel, and neither Douglas Petrie or Jane Espenson strike me as having being significantly invested in the show to have taken over showrunning duties. Rather, they strike me as having been writers for hire who were, by this stage, just intent on getting the job done.) It was directionless, sure, but at least it was largely fun and occasionally meaningful. Now, with Captain Marti steering the ship, it remains directionless, but becomes completely boring.

Anyway, nothing much happens in this episode, except Buffy tries to find out whether or not Spike is killing humans again. Yawn. The highlight of the episode is that they managed to get one of my favourite musicians, Aimee Mann, to guest star at the Bronze, where she mimes two songs from (at the time) her most recent album, Lost in Space… although her line as she exits, “Man, I hate playing vampire towns,” is one of those odd “breaking the fourth wall” moments that really doesn’t sit well with me.

Overall rating: 5/10.

Next time: Never Leave Me.

Posted: Wednesday, October 04, 2006 at 11:37 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Music | Reviews | TV

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 7: Conversations with Dead People


Written by Jane Espenson, Drew Goddard, Marti Noxon (uncredited) & Joss Whedon (uncredited); Directed by Nick Marck

This is the closest Season 7 gets to an episode that is a genuine masterpiece, and the reason for that is that it is one of the few that attempts to do anything approaching an intelligent look at the issues raised in Season 6 and the themes of Season 7. Chiefly, we get to hear Buffy admitting what we’ve all known for a long time: that she has a superiority complex and thinks she’s better than her friends. The episode also manages to be genuinely unsettling in its depiction of the poltergeist that invades the Summers house and attacks Dawn, while the central concept of the episode - none of the main characters come into contact with each other (in fact, Xander and Anya aren’t even in it, making this the one episode out of the entire run of 144 that Nicholas Brendon missed) - is pretty nifty.

Still, there are some major problems. As good as the aforementioned poltergeist material is, it makes no sense in the grand scheme of things. Originally, I thought it was either the First preventing Joyce’s spirit from contacting Dawn, or indeed that the vision of Joyce was the first. Either way, her line to Dawn, “When it’s bad, Buffy won’t choose you. She’ll be against you,” is never followed up on. If it’s Joyce genuinely trying to warn Dawn, then it’s nonsensical enough, but if it’s actually the First, then the attacks make even less sense, since it is established that the First is incorporeal and can’t affect anything physically, which means that it would be impossible for it to smash up the house and give Dawn a thrashing.

The other big problem is the Willow material. I’ve seen the original script, and the plan was for Willow to be visited by what first appears to be the ghost of Tara, but eventually reveals itself to be the First, after failing to convince Willow to slash her own wrists. In the episode as it airs, Willow is visited by the First in the guise of Cassie (the girl from Help). Unfortunately, this makes little sense, as Willow never even met Cassie. And, if the First can appear in the guise of (and I quote) “any dead person it wants”, including Buffy (who has, after all, been dead twice), Spike and Drusilla (who are, after all, technically dead), the Mayor, Glory and so on, who not Tara?

There is of course a completely straightforward answer: Amber Benson flatly refused to have anything to do with an episode that would cause even more heartache to a community of fans already extremely uset by her character’s death. And this, more than anything, is perhaps the biggest scandal of Season 7. When the season ended, Joss Whedon, confronted in an interview with IGN about various problems with the season, came up with a grand story about how his original plan was that Tara was eventually going to be resurrected and return to Willow and everyone would be all smiles and he cried every time he pitched the story because it was so heartwarming… but then that horrible Amber Benson refused to do it. As it happens, though, Amber tells a completely different story, saying that Whedon never once mentioned a happy ending to her, and that she was under the impression that he wanted to appear as the First and only as the First, something that she wasn’t prepared to do to her fans. (And I can’t say I’m surprised. She of all the cast and crew members seemed to be the one who most “got” the social significance of the role she played - although, given that at least one lesbian viewer told her that she didn’t commit suicide “because of Willow and Tara”, it would take a very dim person not to get it.)

Here the vindictiveness of Whedon really comes out, as he did his absolute best to make her out to be the bad guy, pulling his usual “tortured artist” schtick, when, as has been pointed out numerous times, if he hadn’t made the decision to kill off Tara in the first place, the whole sorry situation could have been avoided. He behaved in a similar way with Charisma Carpenter on Angel, deciding not to renew her contract after she got pregnant and therefore required his precious artistic vision for the fourth season to be altered (although, given that they seemed to be making that season up as they went along, I suspect that he was once again looking for someone other than himself to blame for its shortcomings). Then again, it’s always someone else’s fault with this guy: apparently Alien: Resurrection’s problems are Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s fault, the Buffy movie sucked because of Donald Sutherland, and so on and so forth.

Am I rambling? Sorry.

Oh yeah, and one other thing I forgot: Andrew kills Jonathan in this episode. That’s right, murders him in cold blood. And yet somehow, despite knowing this, Buffy and co are more than happy to let him hang about in their house for the rest of the season.

Overall rating: 8/10.

Next time: Sleeper.

Posted: Tuesday, October 03, 2006 at 2:48 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 6: Him


Written by Drew Z. Greenberg; Directed by Michael Gershman

What’s the biggest problem with Season 7? (Apart from it generally being boring and lifeless, that is.) Continuity. This episode is fun in a ridiculously cheesy throwaway manner, but it seems to exist in its own reality because, outside of a brief moment near the start that acknowledges what’s been going on in Anya’s life, the characters act as if the events of previous episodes never took place. Anya, who was utterly depressed at the end of Selfless, is back to her cheery Season 4-5 self; Willow, who, less than six months ago, was standing with the love of her life’s blood splattered all over her, is busy falling head over heels for a generic high school jock and contemplating casting a spell to rid herself of the slight inconvenience of him having a penis (I don’t care that he’s wearing an enchanted jacket that makes all women crazy about him - Willow would never do this!); and Spike - Spike - is busy moving in with Xander. You know, the same Spike who Xander wanted to kill after he boned Anya and tried to rape Buffy? Well, apparently not, because in this episode the two behave pretty much like old pals who’ve had a minor tiff in the past. Perhaps, though, this is Drew Greenberg’s niche: stupid, throwaway episodes that have nothing to do with the main story arc and can be syndicated out of their original production order. To be honest, I suspect that this is the sort of material we would have seen with the aborted Buffy animated series. Who knows? Perhaps the episode was even written for it. That said, as mediocre as it is, it’s certainly considerably better than anything else he ever wrote for the show, although I’m still not ready to forgive him for Older and Far Away or The Killer in Me (review for that particular travesty forthcoming).

This is, by the way, the last filler episode before the main Seasonal Arc of Morbidity kicks into gear, so you might at well savour it. It’s more or less all doom and gloom from here.

Overall rating: 6/10.

Next time: Conversations with Dead People.

Posted: Tuesday, October 03, 2006 at 1:41 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 5: Selfless


Written by Drew Goddard; Directed by David Solomon

The crazy new costume designer strikes again! In Beneath You, it was Spike and his horrifying blue shirt; this week, it’s Streetwalker Willow in her wacky red tights.

Anyway, a lot of people are crazy about this episode, but I consider it rather overrated. It’s worth watching, though, because it’s the last time Anya gets any meaningful character development. Trouble is, it seems to exist for no reason other than to cap off the “return to vengeange” plot that was introduced late in Season 6. What was the point? Was it because they realised the plot wasn’t a very good idea after all? Buffy does, of course, have a moral obligation, and indeed duty, to kill demons, especially those who are themselves making a habit of slaughtering people wholesale. How on earth could they justify keeping Anya alive after what she’s done? Buffy does, after all, stake random vampires as they rise from their graves before they’ve had any chance to kill anyone. If she’s not going to give them the benefit of the doubt, what’s so special about Anya?

Answer: Emma Caulfield. She was originally going to be a one-shot villain, but Joss Whedon liked her so much that he kept her around until the show ended (although he did give her a crappy pointless death in the final few minutes because he was pissed off that she’d decided to quit whether or not the show was renewed). It’s the same with Spike and, I suspect, a number of other characters who Buffy, for no tangible reason, allows to live, simply because people like the characters and their actors. In all honesty, Buffy might as well have killed Anya in this episode, as was her intention, because Emma gets precious little to do from hereon in, other than get drunk with Andrew and have a surprise bout of kitchen-floor sex with Xander just before the final battle.

This was the first episode written by a new writer, Drew Goddard, as his first ever gig in the industry. A number of people have commented that, had he run the final season, it would have been a whole lot better and actually lived up to the promises of “going right back to the beginning”. I can sort of see why: he does well with the continuity in this episode, referring all the way back to Xander’s “kick his ass” lie at the end of Season 2, and also throwing in a fun musical number set at the time of Once More With Feeling (although it’s vastly inferior to anything in that episode). These are just window-dressing, though. The “kick his ass” line is promptly buried without ever being exploited (if the writers wanted to drive the gang apart, surely dirty secrets from the past such as that should have been the perfect tools with which to do so), and the song is nice for what it is but ultimately empty. I’m not saying the season wouldn’t have been better with Goddard in the driving seat, because at least then someone would have been steering it, but, based on his contributions to the Buffyverse, I don’t think he’s the wunderkind some people have made him out to be.

Overall rating: 7/10.

Next time: Him.

Posted: Saturday, September 30, 2006 at 12:43 AM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Music | Reviews | TV

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 4: Help


Written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner; Directed by Rick Rosenthal

As I write this review, it occurs to me that, despite being one of the weakest seasons of Buffy ever, Season 7 actually has the longest run of solid episodes at its start. Looking at these early episodes, it seems clear that the writers at least were earnest in their intent to move away from the depression of Season 6 and go back to a more light-hearted style of show. It also seems fairly certain that, at this stage, they really weren’t sure whether or not this would be their last season, because it’s probably fair to say that, had they known for certain they were on their way out, they wouldn’t have done so many filler episodes. In that regard, I suspect that at least some of the blame for Season 7’s overall suckage should be laid at Sarah Michelle Gellar’s feet, since she took so long to decide she wasn’t coming back that the writers ended up with very little time to wrap things up.

Anyway, good things about this episode: Willow and Xander visit Tara’s grave. This is one of something like three episodes in which Tara is directly referenced (although her name isn’t actually spoken here), and the scene manages to be quite touching. Also, the main plot, involving a young girl called Cassie who can see into the future and predicts that she’s going to die on Friday, is a little different from usual and is dealt with well. It’s not the most uplifting of episodes, but it is poignant, and probably Rebecca Kirshner’s best writing effort. The actress playing Cassie, Azura Skye, is also excellent. I know that the episode is filled with all sorts of timeframe errors, but I can overlook these. Interestingly, too, this short-lived mini Scoobie gang of Buffy, Dawn, Willow and Xander is quite effective, getting away from the sometimes overcrowded nature of of the last couple of seasons in favour of a more concentrated approach. Where’s Anya, though? She’s not in this episode at all, which is pretty indicative of the way her character ends up being treated throughout the rest of the season.

On the downside, the writing may have got better, but the directing certainly hasn’t. If anything, it’s got worse. So far, every episode of this season has looked bland, flat and anonymous, with drab lighting and very uninteresting camerawork - and, as far as I can remember, this doesn’t change. It’s serviceable, that’s for sure, but when I look back to something like Bad Girls in Season 3 and think how good the lighting, staging and stunts were, it becomes really obvious how much the show’s technical standards have slipped.

Overall rating: 8/10.

Next time: Selfless.

Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2006 at 9:14 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 3: Same Time, Same Place


Written by Jane Espenson; Directed by James A. Contner

As I’m watching these early Season 7 episodes, I’m finding it amazing just how much better they are than the second half of Season 6, or indeed the second half of Season 7. They’re not perfect, and there’s a distinct lack of proper narrative follow-through, but at least they’re acknowledging certain issues, such as Willow’s previous homidical tendencies, even if they’re doing their best to brush them off.

This episode is good in most respects: it has a cool monster (Gnarl is one creepy mofo), decent character moments and even an effective metaphor (Willow can’t see the gang, and they can’t see her, because of their failure to communicate). There are also some very nice comedy moments, my favourite being posable Dawn (she gets paralysed by Gnarl). That said, some of the problems that will affect the rest of the season are already becoming apparent. Chiefly, we learn that Anya has had her right to teleport revoked - presumably because the writers realised it would make things a little too easy if she could travel anywhere she wanted in the blink of an eye. The same is true later in the season with Willow’s magic ability, which varies on an episode by episode basis as they struggle to rationalise why someone with enough power to literally destroy the whole world isn’t getting out the big guns for the showdown against the First and his minions.

Overall rating: 8/10.

Next time: Help.

Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2006 at 8:12 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 2: Beneath You


Written by Douglas Petrie; Directed by Nick Marck (England sequence written and directed by Joss Whedon)

More monster of the week whimsies, but clearly a bit of an afterthought. I mean, a penis monster (well, that’s what it looks like at any rate) who comes out of the ground and chases a helpless lady is hardly original. The main focus, it would seem, is on Spike and his newly acquired soul, as well as his newly acquired state of insanity. Initially, I assumed that the two were connected, but, of course, later on it turns out that the insanity is just the First messing with him.

What really bugs me is the fact that the gang pretty much just accept Spike back. Okay, so Xander can at least remember that he tried to rape Buffy last time he was in town, and Dawn warns him that if he lays a finger on her sister, he’ll “wake up on fire” (gotta love the new got-together Dawn), but everyone seems fairly blasé about it. Oh, and if everyone knows that Anya, now a practicing Vengeance Demon again, is killing people as a career, why in the hell aren’t they doing anything about it? Still, Spike’s blue shirt is by far the most offensive part of the episode. I’m not exactly a fashion-conscious sort of fellow, but yeesh!

As with last week’s episode, the scene between Willow and Giles in England is its best moment. I find it interesting that this damaged, vulnerable Willow, having realised just how out of control she was, has reverted back to her Season 1-3 speech patterns. It’s moments like these that make me realise what an immensely talented actor Alyson Hannigan is, and, not for the first time, I find myself shaking my head when I think that she’s stuck appearing in crap like Date Movie. Someone give the girl a decent dramatic role, for god’s sake!

Savour these moments, by the way, because, barring the Buffy scenes in Conversations with Dead People, they’re the only Joss Whedon material we’ll get until the finale. And, as a point of useless trivia, they were actually shot in Anthony Head’s own house and garden.

Overall rating: 7/10.

Next time: Same Time, Same Place.

Posted: Wednesday, September 27, 2006 at 12:21 AM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV

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