Monday, 23 January 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Surprise

“Surprise me, Angel.”

“OK, I will…”

Oh dear. Things are, indeed, about to get bad. Very bad. This is an extraordinary episode, and nothing will ever be the same again.

As usual there’s a theme: relationships, and their various stages. For Willow and Oz, things are only just beginning, and all is fluffy and lovely and nice. The scene where Oz asks Willow out is heartwarming and witty and perfect, and even Oz’s deadpan reaction to seeing Buffy slaying a vampire in the library (“Actually, it explains a lot.”) is a signal that this could be the start of something good, for the foreseeable future, anyway. For Cordelia and Xander, though, there’s little but foreboding? Things aren’t working out, there’s never been anything between them but animal instincts, and the secret can’t be kept for ever. Cordy’s refusal of Xander’s request that they go to Buffy’s birthday party as a couple (well, obviously they can’t) is pretty much the confirmation that their relationship can’t develop any more. Dramatically, something has to happen, and it won’t be nice. As for the third couple… let’s talk about them, shall we?

It’s Buffy’s birthday. She’s seventeen. Is that the age of consent in California? It would make sense in context. I could Google that, but I’d rather not. If Big Brother is indeed watching me then I’d rather not be watched Googling the age of consent in various territories. It could seem rather creepy.

Anyway… the episode is basically about Buffy having sex with Angel for the first time and, in fact, popping her actual cherry. That’s clear from the opening dream sequence (I love the French monkey!) in which Joyce asks Buffy whether she’s ready. And their relationship continues to get more and more intense, as it has of late. There’s one thing after another: the prospect of enforced separation, Angel (after much skirting around the issue) finally telling Buffy that he loves her as he gives her a Claddagh ring, and the intensity of their recent escape from Drusilla and Spike. There’s a short scene, charged with eroticism, and it’s implied that, overnight, the deed is done. We’ll leave the consequences for next episode’s review, but it’s very, very clear that the recent status quo is no more. And Buffy is going to get hurt. Badly.

It’s very noticeable that, in the very first scene where Buffy accidentally alludes to the possibility of sex, she then tells Angel that she’s off to school. This reminds us that she is, in fact, a schoolgirl, and that a relationship with someone much, much older is, to say the least, problematic, and so it’s clear that we’re not exactly supposed to approve. On the other hand, though, I wouldn’t accuse the episode of a more general Puritanism, as I did the last time I saw it, perhaps now because I’m old enough to be very conscious that Buffy is not an adult. In fact, there may even be a subtext that making such a big deal out of the popping of one’s cherry is not exactly healthy: you’ll probably enjoy it more if you lose the awkward self-consciousness and just do it.

Er, there’s one thing that’s been bothering me, though. Vampires don’t have blood, right? So how can he possibly get an erection? Sorry. These questions have to be asked.

There are other things to be mentioned too, of course. I love the camerawork as Willow approaches Oz early on, the unsteady movement of the camera reflecting Willow’s nerves. And also, of course, we get a revelation about Jenny (or “Janna Kalderash”); she’s a member of the very Gypsy tribe that cursed Angel, and a visit by her uncle (guest star Vincent Schiavelli) reminds her that she must act against them to destroy their relationship. I’m, er, not entirely sure that this is a sensitive portrayal of Gypsy culture, but it’s yet another sign of a broken status quo. Jenny, unbeknownst to Giles or anyone else, has an agenda which is antagonistic to that of the Scoobies. There’s going to be conflict. This is a drama, after all.

The final couple is Drusilla and Spike, who have now reversed roles fully. Spike is obviously scarred and confined to a wheelchair while Drusilla, while still as mad as a pincushion, is clearly the one in charge, taking over the henchman-threatening duties. There is potential for drama here, too. We’ve already seen Angel, Drusilla’s former lover (and tormentor) goading Spike over his sexual performance, and it looks as though further gradual emasculation is on the cards. He’s still the alpha male at this point, but much diminished.

Oh, and he says the word “wanker”, something which British characters often say in American TV shows, comics, etc. Note to all American writers: this is a rather strong swear word, about on a par with “shit”, and if you include it then we Brits have to watch a censored version on television, which is well annoying. Still, it’s certainly the sort of thing that Spike would say.

I’m a bit nervous about the next episode, which should be up tomorrow.

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