Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Innocence

“You got a lot to learn about men, kiddo.”

Again, wow. So much to talk about. Sarah Michelle Gellar’s performance is… more wow. Joss Whedon writes and directs but, for once, the dialogue is (mostly) deadly serious and the camerawork is (mostly) unshowy. Buffy, Willow and Giles all have their hearts broken, and things will never be the same again. But, for Buffy, it’s worse: not only is her heat broken, but terrible things are happening and it’s all her fault. That’ll teach her to be a woman and actually enjoy sex, eh?

Dramatic though these events are, though, this is a development of last episode’s themes as well as its events- namely relationships and their different stages. There’s an obvious three-way parallel between Buffy (who gets her heart broken by Angel, who suddenly turns bad after she shags him), Willow (who gets her heart broken by seeing Xander, her long-time crush, locking lips with Cordelia of all people and says “You’d rather be with someone you hate than with me”- ouch) and Jenny (whose conflict between family and friends causes her to betray Buffy and be brusquely rejected by Giles, who is very protective of his surrogate daughter). But the theme broadens out. Willow (oh, and Alyson Hannigan is extraordinary, too) continues to develop her relationship with Oz, who shows how much he thinks of her by waiting to kiss her until it’s right for them both).

Oh, and there’s Drusilla, and the symbolically emasculated Spike. Angelus suddenly walking in and joining them is simply huge: it was only a couple of episodes ago that Angel was goading Spike about his ability to sexually satisfy Drusilla. There’s already an incipient triangle developing, and Spike isn’t going to be able to compete. Oh, and if all this isn’t enough, Angel’s torment of Buffy is explicitly paralleled with what he did to Drusilla, a century ago. This whole situation has been cleverly foreshadowed right through the season. Joss Whedon is a clever man.

Angel is deliciously evil here, as he has to be- not only does he kill a woman during the opening teaser, but he (gasp) smokes a cigarette. Yes, David Boreanaz is superb in this too. And he’s clearly playing a long game, and a game it is. He (and for that matter Spike and Dru) has very little time for the old-fashioned, moustache-twirling villainy of the Judge, whom the script rather amusingly mocks throughout. I love his death scene, and Xander’s plan, and the fact that he gets to use his military skills from Halloween. Xander now has superpowers, sort of.

There’s only slight problem with this episode, though; I’m a bit uncomfortable with its portrayal of gypsies. They’re portrayed as mysterious, magical, “other”. I suppose, as far as popular culture goes where gypsies are concerned, that it could be much worse, but there’s an awkwardness.

This aside, though, this is probably the most extraordinary episode yet. I remember watching this for the first time with my mate Dave (hi if you’re reading this!) who introduced me to the series for the first time, and him telling me that Angelus was in fact to be the season’s Big Bad. And that’s made clear by the ending: Buffy can’t bring herself to kill him, but it’s rather appropriate that she should kick him in the bollocks.

Buffy goes through the wringer here, in ways she never has before. But at least we end with Buffy receiving support from both her surrogate father, Giles, and her mother.

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