Thursday, 31 May 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Graduation Day, Part One

"We're gonna need a bigger boat."

This is it, then, or at least the first half of it. You could cut the tension with a knife and, er, Buffy sort of does exactly that. There's mere hours to go until the end of school and, since the Mayor will be making his speech and doing all that Ascension stuff right there, also the end of everyone's lives. Jonathan may have been a bit premature when he said that the Class of '99 has had the lowest mortality rate ever.

The American concept of graduating high school is a fascinating one to me as a Brit; we don't have anything like that. Lessons end, you take your final A Level exams, and you wait until the results come in mid-August, long after school ended, when either you'll have achieved the grades you needed for your provisional place at University or it's time to panic. There's no graduation as such, just separate qualifications in the three or four subjects you studies post-16, and nit much of a sense of ceremony although, obviously, the fact that school, ends means something. On the other hand, my degree ceremony was just like this, with gowns and speeches and balls. It feels odd to me to see that sort of thing happening to teenagers.

There's a real contrast between the liberating feeling of school ending, winding down into yearbooks and games of hangman, and the sense of imminent death, as Xander pretty much articulates at the very beginning. But either way it means leaving childhood behind. In fact, this is an episode full of rituals to do with growing up. Willow loses her virginity and Buffy (finally!) severs all ties with the Watchers' Council, calling it a "graduation". She's an adult now and she'll make her own decisions.

Willow and Oz's short scene of post-coital bliss is incredibly sweet, obviously, and so are Anya's obvious feelings for Xander. I love Anya, as do all right-thinking people. But there's something of a cruel contrast between these two couples being brought closer together by the upcoming apocalypse and the fact that they seem to have no future. The whole mood of this episode is so very ambiguous, yet so very powerful too. But then, that always happens in these episodes where Joss Whedon both writes and directs.

The Ascension is near, but the Scoobies still have very little idea how to stop it, and the Mayor is careful to keep them distracted with finding a cure for the mortally wounded Angel and, much though he may bleat about no father being prouder, he's essentially using Faith as expendable bait; he must have known that the blood of a Slayer was the only cure. She doesn't know it, but it seems she's been tossed aside.

It feels the whole series has been running up to this: an epic showdown between Buffy and Faith. It ends inconclusively, of course, as we need a cliffhanger, but it's so, so meaningful, in the context of these two characters and their arc, to see Buffy actually stabbing Faith. Even Faith is more surprised than anything.

Like all first parts to series finales, though, this is just the build-up, and it seems to end on a big suspended chord, just as it should. Tomorrow there should be a proper sense of closure, as I finally get the end of what is still my favourite season.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Prom

"End of school rite of passage thingy…"

Yes, ok, let's get it out of the way: the hellhounds look awful. There. That's the one bad thing I have to say about this episode, so let's move straight on to the gushing.

We don't really have a great tradition of school proms here in the UK. I understand it's become much more of a thing for the young 'un's today, because of the influence of American pop culture stuff such as, well, Buffy. But I'm thirty-five, and I never went to one when I left school, which would have been back in '95. Neither did any of my friends. I mean, there was a sort of formal dance for people who liked that sort of thing, but there was no tradition attached, or any sense of it being any kind of rite of passage. I seem to recall that I saw a local band called Sckism that night.

As I've said a lot in my Buffy bloggings, although admittedly much more in the early days, American high school life seems to be punctuated by all sorts of events- proms, Homecoming, a tradition of school sports being supported by people who don't play them- which simply don't exist in Britain (or rather England, Scotland being an independent nation for educational purposes), or at least not in the sort or ordinary, if rather large, Midlands small town state comprehensive that I went to. There were classes, free periods, exams, coursework and… not much else, certainly no organised social events in the evenings. So it's fascinating to watch this and see the real cultural power of the school prom as a rite of passage. It's such a massive thing in people's lives, and I can understand why Wesley, a countryman of mine, alas, can't see what's so important about a "school dance". That'll be cultural differences. Of course, I suspect that Wesley's school life would have been just as different from mine as that of the Scoobies, no doubt involving such things as prefects, Matron and fagging.

And because the episode is about such a massive rite of passage, it's basically about the characters. I mean, yes, technically we get a supernatural antagonist in Tucker and his Hellhounds, but it's all rather perfunctory. In fact, the funniest scene in the episode (Tucker saying that he has his reasons, followed by a two second flashback of him asking a girl "Do you want to go to the prom with me?" and her  saying "No") is basically just an amusingly metatextual commentary on this. It's not about the Hellhounds. It's about all the nasty things the Mayor was saying at the end of the last episode. He said some cruel things, but they were cruel because they were true.

In fact, arguably we know from the beginning of the episode that this is going to be the one when Buffy and Angel breaking up. Buffy starts talking about keeping stuff in Angel's home, and complaining about it not being "girl friendly", which implies a serious deepening of their relationship and therefore, this being a Joss Whedon show, pretty much telling us that the relationship ends now. It's not a surprise when Joyce turns up, and what she says shouldn't surprise us either. She's right. Angel can never age, can never have children and must never have an orgasm. There's only one was this can end, and it might as well be now. After the mayor's Ascension, he'll leave Sunnydale.

The Mayor knows it. We, the audience, know it. Angel knows it. Even Buffy accepts it, deep down, as she later admits to Willow. But that doesn't make it hurt any less. Buffy is utterly destroyed at Angel breaking up with her, and the scene is utterly, utterly heartbreaking. And she spends the rest of the episode being morose, a little dead inside, and far from her usual wisecracking self. Yet her pain becomes a determination that her friends should not have their Prom night ruined as hers has been. This says a lot about Buffy, and what a hero she is.

There are consolations, such as Willow being such a wonderful friend, and Giles' fatherly offer of support and ice cream, but this is devastating, and all the more so for being inevitable. Fortunately, though, there is some light relief in Anya, former vengeance demon, asking Xander to accompany her to the Prom with the immortal line "Men are Evil. Will you go with me?" Trouble is, her conversation turns out to bore the pants off him. The two of them will never last. Oh, and that thing between Cordelia and Wesley is still going on. That'll really never last.

It's also so very satisfying to see a resolution to the whole Cordelia / Xander thing. When Xander finds out that she's now poor, forced to work in a dead end job and unable to afford any of the universities that accepted her, courtesy of a naughty tax dodging father, the snarking stops. Instead, he keeps her secret and pays for her to have a dress for the Prom. That's a lovely gesture, and fitting recompense after he was such a git to her.

The ending, though, with Jonathan announcing that Buffy has won a special "Class Protector" award by popular demand, even made me cry, and I'm a right stone-hearted bastard. She's been through so much in this episode but now, at last, she realises that she is appreciated, and always has been. The Class of '99 has had the lowest mortality rate in Sunnydale history. Well, so far. Two episodes still to go…

Monday, 28 May 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Choices

"Why couldn't you be dealing drugs, like normal people?"

As often happens in Buffy, the title refers to more than is immediately apparent. Yes, there's Buffy's choice, or lack of, about whether to go to uni somewhere other than Sunnydale. But this episode is also about other choices. Willow makes a positive choice to stay in Sunnydale for the right reasons, because fighting the baddies is what she wants with her life. And Faith has to deal with the consequences of the choice she's made. She and the Mayor may get on fine at the moment, but he's very much the controlling type. This relationship is going to get more and more abusive, and Faith is trapped.

The plot is rather straightforward and blah, really. Its purpose is to get the inevitable and showdown between Buffy and the Mayor out of the way, as it has to happen at some point before the finale, and also to enable the Scoobies to learn more about the Mayor's plans. But the interesting stuff, as ever, is all about the characters.

In the way she responds to being captured, Willow shows herself to be brave and resourceful, yes. But there's more to it than that; this is the episode where it suddenly becomes manifest that she's no longer one of the civilian-type Scoobies; the way she uses that levitating pencil (nice shout out to earlier in the season, that) to stake that vampire shows us that she's beginning to be useful in the field. She's the fully-fledged magic user to the D&D party that is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Er, sorry. Also, she gets the important pages from the Books of Ascension for Giles. That's big. Whatever the increasingly marginalised Wesley might say, the Scoobies are not back to square one at the end.

Of course, the best character moment ever is Oz's angry and eloquent reaction to Wesley's suggestion of not bartering to get his Willow back!

A lot of this episode is about how teenagers' lives are punctuated by huge responsibilities and big decisions which can seem almost crushing in a stage of life where you don't have the experience, and the accumulated confidence that comes with hears, to deal with it easily. I have far more responsibility in my life today than I did when I was the Scoobies' age, but it doesn't cause me stress in the way that pretty much everything did when I was eighteen, on the school-uni-career conveyor belt, where it seems that the slightest mistake will ruin your life forever. Kids that age are experiencing these pressures without any of the benefit of experience which allows us adults to deal with pressure so much less stressfully, and sometimes we forget that. This is an episode about big choices about one's future, and that's scary.

On a more functional note, of course, it's also an episode which begins to hint at how the series can continue after everyone finishes school. They're not all going to disperse to universities all over America, but choose to stay for reasons similar to Willow. Except Xander, of course, who clearly isn't going to college. And what's up with Cordelia? Why is she working in a shop?

The Mayor's little monologue about the doomed nature of Buffy's relationship with Angel is, of course, ominous. He is, as Willow says, evil, but he's also, as no one wants to admit, right. This is clearly foreshadowing. Their relationship is not long for this world.

Oh, and that rather disgusting McGuffin full of spiders… what's all that about?

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Earshot

"The school paper is edging on depressing. Have you guys noticed that?"

"I don't know. I always go straight to the obits."

You can see why they suspended the showing of this episode on its original American broadcast, one week after Columbine. Oz even gets a line describing school shootings, an acknowledged problem, as "almost trendy at this point." Of course, I'm hardly one to know about the political temperature regarding school shootings in late '90s America, but surely this sort of episode always stood a fair risk of not airing for any number of reasons? I suppose there are advantages to watching all of Buffy, in order, on DVD, many years later in another country.

The episode is bloody good, anyway, and wittier than most. Jane Espenson seems to be second only to Joss himself in that regard. Oz in particular is notably a much funnier character when she writes him. But it's not all about the humour.

This episode is essentially about two things: the effect on Buffy of being able to read minds, and a sort of semi-whodunnit. The first of these is extremely well done on the part of both the script and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Reading the minds of others would be a nightmare. You don't have to be a Freudian to appreciate the huge gulf between the self we present outwardly, the self we perceive ourselves to be, and the chaotic churn of unstructured desires and feelings that lie beneath all that unless, obviously, you happen to be Oz, thoughts are so very cool. Or, even better, Cordelia, who says exactly what she thinks. But the private thoughts or, worse, unconscious thoughts of others would horrify us. And so, conversely, would the horrible realisation that our innermost thoughts were no longer private. Buffy simultaneously drives away her friends and is driven away by them. It's a fairly common fantasy / sci-fi trope, I suppose, but always worth exploring. And it was a brilliant move to use the themes from Othello as a parallel.

Oh, and at last she finds out that Giles and her mother had sex on that police car. Twice. Ouch.

I think there's a metaphor I'm not getting, though, as Buffy is waiting for the taint of the demon to manifest itself earlier on and wondering whether the changes to her will mean she loses part of herself. Is this a metaphor for puberty, growing up, etc, and the changes it brings? I'm not at all sure but, this being Buffy, I'm sure it's a metaphor for something.

The semi-whodunnit aspect is rather neatly tied to all this, not only by Buffy's telepathic warning of the killer's intention but by the sense we're given as the school as a community. And the episode goes out of its way to present the school this way. The basketball game- featuring Willow's "pupil", Percy Hogan and, of course, Cordelia as a cheerleader- is presented as an important event for the school community in a way that, thankfully for your very unsporty blogger, never used to happen in my school. The main red herring is the rather likably subversive editor of the school newspaper, a community organ. And, of course, the dinner hall is a central focus, what with the intended murderer being the school dinner lady and all.

I say it's a semi-whodunnit mainly because the actual identity of the mere perpetrator (who was never really signalled to us) isn't important; Jonathan is far more relevant to the themes and the plot, although why anyone would need a massive gun with a sight just to shoot oneself is beyond me. The heart of the episode is Buffy's speech to him, having read the minds of the school community and realised that the pain, loneliness and anxiety that she and Jonathan feel is a universal part of the human condition and, especially, the teenage condition. I've said it before and I'll say it again: being a teenager is horrible.

Other stuff? There are still no clues as to what the Mayor's "Ascension" might involve. Giles and Wesley are continuing their one-sided, but amusing, tussle over who gets to be alpha male. Angel is particularly saintly in this episode. It isn't possible to read the minds of vampires, which cast no reflection. But this is pretty much a one-off episode, our first for weeks, and one which rather fails to fit any of those categories which I rather clumsily tried to outline in my last review.

It's probably all arc from here, though…

Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)

"I will find you. I will find you. I will find you. I will find you. Aaaargh!"

Yes, it is as bad as it sounds. Bad films have their uses, mind, but they have to be used properly. This isn't so much a film to sit down and watch, as a conversation piece. Alcohol is advised. I didn't actually take any notes for this one, although it wouldn't have made much difference, but I'm reviewing it anyway. I think of it as a challenge to write enough words for a blog post, because there isn't much to mention beyond the hilarity of the dialogue and the acting.

Admittedly the title is interesting. The 1950s were the birth of youth culture and the birth of the concept of "the teenager" and, of course, to many of the older generation they must have seemed so alien that they might as well have been from outer space. So there's a sort of vague social conservatism there. And there's a sort of passive, "apolitical" conservatism throughout, with all the authority figures shown to be upstanding and decent, and 1950's America shown to be a paradise full of kind, hospitable people. Oh, and the flirty lady in the swimming pool gets killed early on, naturally. We can't have any of that kind of behaviour. But… that's as far as we can go with the subtext angle. There isn't even any obvious reference to communism.

Still, the society he finds on Earth makes a great impression on the protagonist, a serious and decent teenager from outer space going by the other-worldly name of, er, Derek. Yes, Derek. And Derek gets into a romantic entanglement with an Earth girl called Betty, played by Dawn Bender who, in stark contrast with e very other member of the cast, can sort of act a bit. It's the 1950's though, so it's all very chaste. Derek dies at the end, because otherwise things might lead to kissing, inappropriate touching and all sorts of beastliness, and we certainly can't have that.

If you're unconvinced by the bad acting, the hilarious dialogue and the fact the main alien is called Derek, then the special effects might lure you in to the, er, delights of this film. The aliens plan to let loose a load of huge, terrible Gargon monsters, which are portrayed by, er, lobsters or, rather, the shadows of lobsters, as lobsters tend to have this unfortunate tendency to be a little smaller than the script requires. The aliens also regularly kill people with ray guns, reducing them to bones, or rather to the same, rather obvious, plastic skeleton.

It gets worse. The final scene features Derek's alien father, sporting the most obvious false beard in the history of cinema. But personally I find myself inspired. Surely, somewhere in the world, there must be a worse B movie than this? The quest begins…

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

"That's not fair! I had zombies too!"

"Yes, you had "Zombies." But this is "Zombie Redneck Torture Family." Entirely separate thing. It's like the difference between an elephant and an elephant seal."

Oh dear, spoilers can be such an awkward issue, can't they? You see, usually I don't have to think about them too much. Most of the time I just review old telly or old films, or at least telly that's been officially broadcast, so the gloves are off, spoiler-wise. I mean, I'm usually kind enough to warn about spoilers if they're a particular issue, but that's rare. I suppose I've never really had to think about it much, and occasionally it's occurred to me that it's rather unclear whether I'm writing for people who haven't seen the thing in question, people who haven't, or both.

Thing is, this time it really does matter, and I'm going to have to come up with a spoiler policy for this review. This is a film on current release, it twists and turns like Lord Melchett's patented twisty-turny thing, and the whole point of it is to subvert all the tropes of the slasher movie. It's very, very Joss Whedon, and I'm not just saying that because Amy Acker is in it. So I think I'll have a go at a "no spoilers" policy just this one, at least up to a point, as it obviously depends on how strict a definition of spoilers you like to use. I do actually need something to talk about, after all. But I'll try and be no more spoilery that those film reviews in magazines and broadsheets. If you generally read those without fear of being spoiled, it's ok to read this. I mean, you might as well. You're three paragraphs in now.

Joss Whedon has said that this film is a "hate letter" to a genre which he loves but which has of late descended into the "torture porn" of Saw and its clones. Hence, this film has plenty of blood and gore, but it's old-fashioned, cheesy blood and gore, without the nasty sadism. It's also a bit of a deconstruction with the genre, playing with our expectations, which is particularly interesting. For one thing, as with all slasher movies, we, the audience, are forever trying to second guess who's going to get killed, which means we're deconstructing it as we watch. For another thing, the Scream saga already exists. But this is very different- much less self-consciously metatextual, deconstructing itself while leaving the fourth wall intact.

Without saying too much, let's say that this starts out as a typical slasher movie, with five potential victims staying at an isolated cabin being slowly picked off. We have the promiscuous and sexy Dana (male gaze alert, not that drew Goddard and Whedon are unaware of this), the sporty and muscular Curt (played by Chris "Thor" Hemsworth), "good girl" Jules, the bookish Holden, and the rather amusing stoner, Marty. There are certain expectations we have for these archetypes, and let's just say that these expectations do not go unaddressed.

I love this film. It's witty, it's playful, it plays with a much larger canvas than you expect, and when I say that it subverts your expectations I mean that in a far more wide-ranging way than you might expect. It is and isn't the kind of film you expect. It makes you think it's one thing, then pulls back to reveal it's something bigger, and then pulls back again to reveal it's even bigger, etc. And yet it remains firmly a slasher film throughout. Watch it. It's good.

A word of advice, though. I watched this at the splendid Phoenix Square Cinema in central Leicester, and had a couple of pints in the bar with a friend beforehand. I also took a pint of Boddingtons into the film with me for good measure, which you're allowed to do. Told you it was splendid. But the inevitable happened and my viewing of the film was interrupted by two embarrassed trips to the gents…

Friday, 25 May 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Enemies

"I'm the world's best actor."

"Second best…"

Back on Wednesday I was bibbling about the way there are two kinds of Buffy episodes- the funny and the heartbreaking, and how, what with Joss Whedon being evil and all, a funny episode is likely to immediately precede a direct act of violence to your heartstrings. Well, obviously, I was exaggerating a bit there. There are your ordinary monster of the week episodes too, although we haven't really had many of late, what with things being so tense lately, arc-wise. There's another distinct kind, though: the plot episode, an anchor in the season arc, full of plotty goodness. We typically get one just before the final run of episodes before the season finale, and that's just what we've got here.

And I'm impressed. This episode has to do a lot of heavy lifting, arc-wise. It has to show our Scooby friends realising that Faith is working for the Mayor. It has to lead to Buffy breaking up with Angel, at least temporarily. It has to have the Scoobies becoming aware of the Mayor's mysterious-but-ominous-sounding Ascension, and it has to establish that Ascension Day is to be D-Day. That's a lot to fit in. So it's all the more impressive that the episode is such an entertaining watch in its own right.

Obviously, a huge reason for this is the big, big twist, which is one of those "everything you thought you knew was wrong" moments. It really hits you like a punch, especially as "Angelus" is so convincing. Boreanaz, Angel, Gellar, Buffy… all four of them show themselves to be brilliant actors.

Another great thing is the developing relationship between Faith and the centenarian Mayor, conveyed mainly through some mutually great facial acting. "Miniature golf" indeed. The Mayor is such a fun character, far more so with Faith than with Mr Trick, rather appropriately allowing us to enjoy our Big Bad more in the season's closing episodes. It's also notable, once again, how powerless Wesley is: no one (except Cordelia, who seems to have rejoined the gang because of him) listens him, and it's notable how Buffy, Angel and Giles don't include him in their plans. And there's a rather sweet scene with Willow giving Buffy some sensible relationship advice, establishing that they're now back to being as close as they were before.

Interestingly, this episode gives us an early example of the "good demon" trope, much as Faith may think that "A demon's a demon." Racist! I suppose Giles is just as bad, what with "Demons after money? Whatever happened to the still-beating heart of a virgin? No one has any standards any more!" Still, I'll cut him some slack. It's a good line.

Probably the most interesting part, though, is after Faith kills the demon, and we see her bloodstained hands, in a moment that recalls Macbeth. This is her first deliberate murder, and I suspect that some of the conflicted feelings she confesses to Angel are genuine. But there's no going back now. She's literally dipped her hands in the blood.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Doppelgangland

"She was truly the finest of us."

"Way better than me."

"Much, much better"

I love this show. This isn't the first time I've banged on about the alternation of the funny episodes with the darker ones in a predictable but good way, but the extraordinary run of serious episodes we've experienced lately is followed by this, the most laugh-out-loud funny thing I've seen in, well, months. It's no surprise to realise this is both written and directed by Joss Whedon. Truly, the man is God.

At times like this it's always tempting just to quote the huge number of hilarious lines throughout the whole review, but I won't. That sort of thing might be fine for five minutes of uninspired pub chat but it won't do for blogging. I mean, of course I'm going to shoehorn some of that stuff in when I'm ostensibly taking about the character development, or how brilliant Alyson Hannigan is, but you can rely on me to be subtle.

So… Alyson Hannigan. I didn't think such a thing was possible, but my opinion of her acting has just got even higher. She's great at comedy, but we knew that. We didn't need that bored look from evil Willow at being lectured by Cordelia to tell us that, hilarious though that scene is. But seeing her playing two completely different characters (except, of course that "our" Willow is Totally Not Gay and this is in no way foreshadowing, right?) really hammers home how great she is. That scene with her playing "our" Willow pretending to be evil Willow is a tour de force.

Oh, and Evil Willow… mmm! Is it just me who thinks Alyson Hannigan should have her own show where she stars as a Goth dominatrix? Thought not.

It's great to have a sequel to The Wish for general reasons, of course, not least because it means more Evil Willow (although she's seemingly dead, sadly), but it's nice to have some sort of link between the two worlds. And it's also great to have Anya back; a 1,200 year old vengeance demon stuck in Sunnydale High is too good a character not to become a regular.

It's also good to have Oz back after a rather jarring absence, and Snyder, of course. It's been a while since this foreigner has made any comments about the otherness of American schooling, but to me the whole idea of artificially inflating someone's grades just because they're good at a sport is horrifyingly corrupt! Does this stuff really go on much?

Also in season arc news  it's deeply worrying to see Faith still pretending to be one of the Scoobies while secretly working for her new sugar daddy, the Mayor, who's bought her a swanky new luxury flat, complete with PlayStation, which in 1999 was really something. It's very quickly established that there's going to be no hanky panky, which makes the Mayor a sort of father figure and so, I suppose, an evil parallel to Giles. That's interesting, as Buffy gets a lot of dialogue early on about how easily she could have turned out like Faith if things had been different. Of course, this also works as some pretty neat foreshadowing of the two Willows.

Cordelia still blatantly fancies Wesley, and this is getting increasingly foregrounded. I suspect this subplot is probably there to give us some light relief when the heavy stuff starts up again sometime soon. Also, it gives Wesley something to do, and the character would by now be redundant otherwise, it seems.

I somehow suspect next episode will be rather more heart-crushing than this one, just because this one was fun. Joss Whedon does that.

Incidentally, I've now finished The Bridge, which means it's all uninterrupted Buffy from now on, films aside, until the end of Season Four. Well, apart from Angel Season One, which is not far off. Unfortunately, The Bridge was being shown two episodes a week on BBC4, and I was forced to keep up, which led me to rather neglect Buffy. I don't think I'll watch anything being broadcast like that in the future, unless it's a new series of something I've already been blogging. Certainly, it's all Buffy and Angel (and films) for a good while now.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Bridge: Episode Ten

"Has everything you know ever turned out to be wrong?"

Ooh blimey. I don't think I can take much more of this. No, wait… I don't have to. What a brilliant piece of television. Suspense, mystery, character… all three of those elements delivered so, so much. Needless to say, HERE BE SPOILERS, LOTS OF THEM.

The arcs for both characters are so, so satisfying. Martin, likeable as he is, ends up being punished for what he did to Jens. I suppose his affair with Charlotte, and its consequences, were foreshadowing this. August sums him up best, I think: "He knows he's not perfect, but he does his best." Kim Bodnia deserves so, so much praise for portraying Martin's constant emotional turmoil.

For Saga, the main thread her is how good a liar she is, which proves so very relevant to the plot, but also her moves towards empathy generally; her little white lie fails, but she saves the day anyway. Except that August is still dead, and she still thinks she fails. Her connection with Martin is wonderful to see, and it's extraordinary, yet believable, for her to show so much emotion. Sofia Helin has been utterly superb, too.

There are lots of little touches on the theme of our two stars. It's made very clear, as a direct parallel, that Martin does not have the closeness to Lilian that Saga has with Hans. And there's that wonderful scene of Saga just standing, in the kitchen at Jens' mother's house, alone, silent, framed in the centre of the shot. She's alone, but comfortable that way. The pressure is on her, but she's capable.

Most wonderful of all is that last meeting between the two of them in the hospital. Saga, heartbreakingly, thinks she's let Martin down, but she hasn't. She's a good and loyal person, and he knows that. And perhaps her lack of empathy is not entirely a weakness. Perhaps Martin's greater empathy, when it manifests itself in infidelity, can be a weakness too. And the final shot, as Saga arranges a date with Anton, shows us that, even though there may be no hope for Martin, there is hope for her.

Oh, and one particularly nice touch comes at the very end of the scene in which Martin confesses to Metter that it was him who cuckolded Jens. She simply sighs, a sigh that speaks volumes. It's probably the very pinnacle of screen sighing. It's that good.

So, The Bridge is amazing. It's drama at its best. Is it was good as, say, The Wire or The Sopranos? Well, that's not a fair question, and it's one that I'm not going to answer. High expectations can be a dangerous thing. They can cause disappointment if the programme in question turns out to be merely excellent, which is why I feel a bit nervous about watching The Killing. I think, for the moment, that it's a strict diet of Buffy, Angel and movies for me. All that said, though, I was relieved that I found The Bridge superlative, gripping television.

It's not quite as good as the first series of Spiral, mind…!

Monday, 21 May 2012

The Bridge: Episode Nine

"And then you cut / Goes back to the beginning…"

Interesting how the theme tune finishes here; a combination of the standard ending and the oddly different one from episode eight. I have no idea what, if anything, to make of this.

So, it was Jens, after all. It was revenge, all along. Martin is the main target. Jens wants to hurt Martin by killing August. Saga's been shot and isn't looking at all well. I don't think I can handle much more, but I'm counting the hours until I see the finale. I can't help thinking that the element of mystery isn't over, though. We'll see a few plot twists before we're done.

Just as shocking are the tears(!) from Saga at the prospect of Hans leaving. He looks after her, and the two of them are very close. Will his successor understand her and protect her as he has done? As Martin says, he means a lot to her. Whatever her issues with empathy, Saga has the same feelings as anyone else.

Oddly enough, the "twists" are ones I expect most viewers either expected or had thought about; Sebastian Sandstrod and August's online friend are both the killer. The twists are different: firstly that Martin cuckolded the killer, and secondly that August was always the target. Mette and the children are just a particularly cruel piece of misdirection, as are many things in this extraordinary series.

There's time for character stuff too, though. Martin explaining the concept of complements to Saga, and her learning from him, is an example of exactly the sort of endearing interaction between the two of them that is the heart of this series. And I was very moved to see Saga hold the hand of an upset Martin in the car.

Martin, as August says, lets people down. He does the easy thing. He's unfaithful. But he isn't malicious, just instinctive. And he's redemptively brave and loving. I was moved to see him risk his own life save Mette', and that kiss. In spite of everything, he doesn't deserve any of this.

August is interesting, too. He's a lot more likeable than he's been before in the full context. Notably, we’re led to believe he's lying to Mette about having a job interview, but he isn't. He blames himself for causing Anja's death, in an echo of how Martin blames himself for Mikaela's. Just as Jens wants Martin to get closer to his son so that he feels more pain at his death, we've also been made to like him more. This doesn't bode well for his survival.

It's a very tense episode. All the scenes of Jens with Mette just seethe with tension, and the attempt at a trap for him by keeping August's rendezvous is much the same. It's almost as if we've switched genre from action-oriented whodunnit to thriller, but it all feels earned.

Anything can happen now. No individual is certain to live, and that includes the leads. Martin has lied about his involvement. Saga will be losing Hans, who looks after her. Neither of them seems to have a definite future in the police, and that raises the stakes…

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Consequences

"We help people. That doesn't mean we can do anything we want!"

So, the consequences. This episode really, really, really walks a tightrope. Its task is incredibly difficult. On the one hand, it has to establish that, as Slayers, Buffy and Faith are not Nietzchean superwomen who can do whatever they like and the little people don't matter. On the other hand, we obviously can't just have the title character of the show thrown in jail as an accessory to murder. That would cause problems, to put it mildly.

In the end, I think, the episode works, although there's an inevitable bit of sleight of hand. The episode turns on the moment when Giles sides with Buffy and accepts this is just an unfortunate accident, the kind of collateral damage that happens in war. This just about works without sounding like a justification of Faith and Buffy's actions on the grounds of their "specialness", but only because of the sheer amount of angst Buffy goes through during the episode. Emotionally, at least, it works, although the other small matter of burglary, resisting arrest and vandalism of police property is neatly glossed over.

It's an intense and extraordinary episode, and essentially a character piece focusing on Faith. We've known she's had a dark side now, but here she may be slipping into real darkness, as Angel's commentary underlines: this is how evil starts. Again, it's all a little too psychologically neat, but a little sleight of hand makes it work emotionally. It helps that Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku are so brilliant here.

There's another side to all of this for Buffy, too. Earlier in the season she kept a secret, hiding Angel's return from everyone, causing a great deal of angst and almost losing Giles' trust. Here, she's grown up, and comes straight out with it as soon as she realises that Faith isn't going to confess. It's a shock to find that Faith has claimed that Buffy is the killer, of course, but I don't think anyone would have been fooled by Giles apparently believing Faith over Buffy. He's far too close to her for that.

Also interesting is how this episode sees the gradual and final rejection of Wesley as Watcher: he's completely lost the respect of everyone and suddenly no one (except Cordelia!) is listening to him. He's powerless, and the organisation he represents is shown once again to be hidebound, of questionable authority and, worst of all, incompetent. In fact, it's interesting to watch this episode now; extrajudicial "extraordinary rendition" has a resonance that it didn't in 1999. Still, Giles, to all intents and purposes, is Buffy's Watcher again. And this time round he doesn't have to answer to anyone.

There are so many other moments in this episode, though. Buffy's heart to heart with Willow, who unlike Faith is a true friend, the hilarious scene in which everyone suddenly realises that Xander is saying he's shagged Faith, and the simple, short, heartbreaking scene of Willow crying at this news. Most shocking, of course, is Faith's attempted rape of Xander. This show, at its core, is all about the reversal of gender roles, but this one's a biggie.

By the end of the episode, the Scoobies are well aware that the Mayor is this season's Big Bad. Mr Trick is dust. And the Mayor has a new employee…

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Masters of the Universe (1987)

"I don't like adventures!"

This is one of my absolute favourite rubbish films. Oh, it's rubbish alright. Eternia looks like a cheap set indoors and like Southern California outdoors, but despite this they had to save money by setting it on Earth, which I imagine would be much cheaper. Skeletor's mask looks rubbish, and poor old Frank Langella gets hilariously clichéd lines such as "A curious quartet" and "Gildor, you minute minion". What's an actor to do but ham it up? As for Dolph Lundgren's performance as He-Man… well, the credits show that he needed both a speech coach and a drama coach. 'Nuff said.

I love it, though. It wears its rubbishness with pride, and is full of dialogue that can only be deliberately hammy. The music is so very, very '80s, and so are the hairstyles. It even has James Tolkan in it, the chap who plays Mr Strickland in the Back to the Future trilogy, and he's one of my favourite actors. In fact, he's probably the best thing about this film.

Still… this is a commercial tie-in to the Masters of the Universe cartoon and toys, so we'd best talk about those. It's all pretty much a formative part of my childhood since the age of five, and I can still remember a disturbingly large number of character names. One of them was called Fisto. Hur Hur. Although I'm not sure what the relevance of the phrase "Masters of the Universe" was. It was all just a load of cynical marketing, of course, but we '80s kids lapped it up. The cartoon, which mostly only featured the same few characters, was a good laugh in spite of the recycled animation and plots, partly because of the deeply silly moral homily at the end of each episode. The backgrounds always looked fantastic, almost as druggy as the plot, and set up a very specific visual aesthetic that anchored this odd mix of sci-fi and fantasy.

This film is not exactly a faithful representation, which should come as no surprise; why should Hollywood creative types slavishly adhere to the rules laid down by a range of toys? Anyway, lots of the characters would be impossible to render well in live action on an obviously limited budget; look how rubbish Skeletor looks. I'm sort of glad they didn't try to do an Orko.

The whole aesthetic is different from the cartoon- very much a mix of the standard Hollywood '80s sci-fi and standard Hollywood fantasy. The overall effect is something much darker and less trippy which makes you much more aware of the inherent silliness of names such as "He-Man and "Evil-Lyn" than would have otherwise been the case. Orko is replaced by Gwildor who, as a fairly standard '80s Hollywood fantasy dwarf, is far more budget friendly. And Billy Barty is the second best thing about this film.

Oddly enough, it seems the director, Gary Goddard, was heavily inspired by Jack Kirby's New Gods stuff for DC. I've not read much of that, but I can see how that would have affected the aesthetic and how Skeletor would presumably be a sort of Darkseid figure. More obvious, though, are the suspiciously large number of, er, "homages" to the Star Wars trilogy. Let's look at them, Shall we?

·         Skeletor is accompanied by a load of black, armoured troops that seem suspiciously close to being stormtroopers.

·         The scene with Skeletor inspecting the bounty hunters is suspiciously close to the similar scene in The Empire Strikes Back. Just using the word "mercenaries" instead of "bounty hunters" doesn't fool me, I'm afraid.

·         The final fight, with He-Man throwing Skeletor down a big hole and the camera following him down for a few feet, is suspiciously close to the climax of Return of the Jedi. Come to think of it, Skeletor looks an awful lot like the Emperor.

That's all coincidence, I'm sure. For the rest, though, we have a fairly standard adventure plot, with the Cosmic Key as our McGuffin. We have Julie (a young Courteney Cox with… interesting hair) and Kevin as our audience identification characters because, obviously, we couldn't possibly be expected to identify with aliens. We have a ridiculously square-jawed, goody-goody hero and a silly, moustache-twirling villain. We have a henchman being zapped to death for failure. We have a silly comedy dwarf. It's all very by-the-numbers, really, but fun, and crammed with action and adventure, up to and including an exploding microwave.

I'm not sure about the ending, though. If Julie and Kevin are a few months back in time, what happened to their earlier selves? Doesn't this create a time paradox so that none of this ever happened? Oh, and if the cosmic key can cause time travel then why didn't our heroes just go back in time and stop Skeletor from doing anything naughty in the first place? Probably best not to think too hard about such things…

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Bridge: Episode Eight

"As far as I know, he had no moral scruples whatsoever. I'll miss him."

The opening theme finishes as normal this week, with "Back to the Beginning". This makes last week's deviation seem even odder. In retrospect, last week's episode seems to have been very much a one-off: a philosophical reflection in the midst of an otherwise plot-driven series. You'll be glad to hear that I'll be taking my head out of my arse to review this episode. No more bloody Kierkegaard. Actually, he's the Danish link to existentialism that I was looking for… er, I'll drop it.

We seem to have two parallel tracks to this episode. First is the relationship stuff- Martin seems to be patching things up with both Mette and August, and his mental state seems to be slowly improving. Things are up in the air, but Mette's miscarriage scare has convinced her to give it another go. Oh, and she's expecting twins. But there are also worrying signs: Mette's mysterious male friend is still around, and now he's bringing flowers. August's online friend "Frida" is still around too, and now "she" wants to meet him.

There's also relationship stuff happening with Saga, surprisingly. Hans, her boss, who's nice to her, is retiring. Anton brings her some flowers; he's looking for more than sex. It's fascinating how the dialogue foregrounds so strongly how the gender stereotypes are being reversed here. And yet… Anton has to be a suspect, doesn't he?

There are a couple of great Saga moments, again. Her idea of small talk is to ask Martin whether he's cheated on his wife before. And there's a wonderful scene where she sits alongside her colleagues, who had been chatting happily: cue an awkward silence. And this time her idea of small talk is to say that she had her period that morning. Er, yes.

Plotwise, we spend most of the episode chasing one red herring, the rather unpleasant Jesper (although at least he acts as an explanation for why Sonja is so upset), and surely this Jens bloke must be another? It's all too neat, Jens has hardly been mentioned, and they surely wouldn't reveal the murderer with two episodes to go.

No; this is an episode of misdirection and sleight of hand. What we're really being shown won't, I suspect, be revealed until much later. And the killer isn't finished yet. The ending pretty much tell us so. Still, I suspect there's some truth in Saga's theory that the killer has some sort of connection to all of the victims. Trouble is, we live in such a connected world.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Bridge: Episode Seven

"You can't have sex with your colleagues' children!"

There's a small but interesting difference at the start of this episode: the lyrics of the song end slightly differently, with "And then you cut…" rather than "Back to the beginning…" as we've heard in all of the previous six episodes. Perhaps this is a nod towards the fact that we're close to the end? It is also, of course, accompanied by a camera cut, which is nicely metatextual. Also interesting is that this week's "previously on…" clip show refers to so many different things from so many weeks ago, many of which I'd semi-forgotten. Threads are beginning to be tied up.

Also interesting is that the first scene proper takes place on a bus which is shot as a small, insignificant speck in a bleak, wintry landscape, and that everything is shot in very muted colours. It's tempting to see a thematic connection with the existentialist subtext which so strongly pervades this episode.

The central focus here is Ferbé, whose near-death experience with his overdose has left him a changed man, deeply shocked by the strong impression that there is no afterlife and thus no meaning to existence. He spends the episode gradually rejecting nihilism and learning that he can impose his own individual meaning on the absurdities of the world, in his case by possibly throwing away his career for the sake of principle, and committing arson to save a child's life, an experience which he describes as "intense". This is an interesting word, as it connotes a chemical high, something which we associate with his pre-overdose self.

The episode ends, of course, with his death, but at least he did something with the extra time he had which had meaning for him. I'm a little wary of stereotyping Swedes as existentialists(!), but I'm reminded very, very strongly of The Seventh Seal.

All this is echoed, I think, in the other characters, albeit in a wider context. Saga, being a kind of innocent, had no faith in an afterlife to begin with, and nor has she ever assumed that the world has a divinely ordained meaning. She is therefore free of existential angst. Martin, meanwhile, sees his purpose in his family, but his family life is falling apart, which is making his life fall apart. Nevertheless, the problem is not a lack of faith.

The episode has some great Saga moments. I laughed out loud when Hans had to gently explain how Martin would be upset about her sleeping with August, and that he might want to know that they didn't have sex. Even funnier is when she shouts it across the whole office! They spend much of the episode at loggerheads, but seem to bond towards the end, and once again Martin seems very perceptive about her, and very empathetic. And his face when told "This is Anton. We have sex now and again." is priceless.

Much of this episode is about consequences. Martin has to face the consequences of cheating on his wife; things are up in the air, and who's that man who spend ninety minutes alone with Mette and texts her in the evening? Stefan, of course, has to face the consequences of what he's done at the very time his sister needs him most. Even the murderer tells Ferbé that he plans to turn himself in and face the consequences.

We seem to be entering the endgame, and we have a definite suspect in Jesper Andersson. It won't be him, of course, and I suspect it isn't a cop.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

"These clowns aren't people. They're creatures, things from another planet!"

No, I kid you not. This really is a film about, literally, killer clowns from outer space. And it's quite hilarious. And very, very late '80s. It has the fashions, the hairstyles, some very '80s bikers, and even an end-of-level baddies. And, incidentally it has a superb theme tune from top Californian punk band The Dickies.

This is a "B" movie, of course. You'd guessed that. It's mainly about the set-pieces, with a rather basic by-the-numbers plot with just a few broadly drawn characters to give us a bit of camply humorous melodrama to string everything together. The acting is hammy, but deliberately so, with a standout comedy performance from John Vernon as the gruff, violent Officer Curtis Mooney. So let's just talk about the set pieces.

I suspect this movie didn't exactly cost much, but it looks great, with absolutely no sign of cheapness anywhere, probably because  the film doesn't exactly call for realism. But there's so much cool stuff here, right from the comedy hillbilly (with a dog called "Pooh Bear"!) who kicks off the set pieces. We get a high point early on as a clown twists a balloon into the shape of a bloodhound and uses it to follow Mike and Debbie, our heroes, but the film manages to top even that, many times. Custard pies, silhouettes, candy floss, ventriloquist's dummies… everything you can think of is used to terrifying effect and there's a shower scene that's, yes, more terrifying than Psycho and even more terrifying than the one and only Jasper Carrott in Jane and the Lost City, if such a thing is possible.

The climax, in a perverted version of an amusement park, is perfect- full of suspense and laughths in equal measure and, this being the late '80s, there's an end-of-level boss straight out of the Sega Mega Drive, with highly prominent puppet strings, no less.

I'd heartily recommend this movie, in the highly unlikely even you can get hold of it. The combination of affectionate piss-take of '50s sci-fi "B" movie with a very '80s fixation on the inherent terror of clowns is a winning one. It's funny, but it's very, very scary indeed, and not one for those with a phobia of clowns. It's also, of course, interesting to see this so soon after Vampire Circus! And it deserves to be adored for the title alone.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Bad Girls

"Faith, you don't get it. You killed a man."

"No, you don't get it. I don't care."

This is a great episode, but then again it's a Season Three episode, so chances were that it would be. What's more interesting is how excellently this season is developing its themes throughout the episodes. Not only is this a serious(ish) arc episode, which follows a more light-hearted episode, which in turn follows a serious arc episode, thus helping to maintain a balance of light and dark (pause for breath…), it also looks at the themes from last episode in a new light. In The Zeppo Xander found himself mixed up with thuggery, gangs and, up to a point, crime. Here the same thing happens to Buffy, but it's much more serious.

We've had plenty of hints throughout the season that Faith is damaged, a little dangerous and, well, pretty much the juvenile delinquent type. Here things are revealed to be worse than we thought; she keeps throwing herself (and Buffy) into fights where they're vastly outnumbered, with no plan, for kicks. But it isn't, I think, just for kicks. I think Faith quite obviously has a death wish. Her self-esteem is obviously rock bottom. And so she tempts Buffy into her delinquent ways in which, like many teenagers, she thinks nothing of the consequences of her actions. So the two of them are seen dancing in a club to hardcore techno (in real life, a fairly common and healthy activity but, in drama, a sure sign of a bad 'un), flirting with the opposite sex in a When She Was Bad kind of way and, in Buffy's case, skiving from a chemistry exam!!! She's going off the rails, and it's all due to Faith's influence.

The metaphor is a) obvious and b) the same as last week. But these two are Slayers, and that raises the stakes a lot. The two of them get more and more out of control until we reach serious crimes such as burglary ("Want. Take. Have."), resisting arrest, crashing a police car into another car and not stopping to see if the cops are ok. It all culminates in Faith unintentionally, but carelessly, killing the mayor's underling, a flesh and blood person. And yes, morally, Buffy is an accessory. There are no two ways about it; Faith is by far the guiltier of the two, yes, but both of them deserve to go to prison. We can't have special rules for Slayers because, as Willow said to Cordelia long ago, that would mean a fascist society. Faith, of course, is in denial, but Buffy knows there must be consequences. Perhaps she's seen the title of the next episode.

It's very instructive, I think, that this should so soon after Giles is fired by the Watcher's Council, thereby semi-detaching the father figure from her life. The two of them are close- it's obvious in the body language here with the two of them united against Wesley- but Giles hasn't really got custody of his surrogate daughter. Instead, we're introduced to the useless, but highly amusing, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. He's frighteningly young, arrogant (or trying to be), full of book-learning, and comically cowardly. What else can he be but a figure of fun? He and Giles make a fantastic double act and, incidentally, Giles suddenly looks very cool by comparison. When did he become so adept with a sword?

Oh, and we're finally on the main road towards the climax of this week's series arc: the mayor is moving towards his "Ascension", and in this episode he takes a major step towards that goal, becoming invincible with some rather neat CGI. I love the way he then proceeds to tick of "become invincible" from his otherwise mundane to-do list!

I love the mayor, and I love Harry Groener's performance. On a show full of metaphors he's perhaps the most satisfying metaphor of all: the politician who has literally sold his soul for power. His entire persona is slick, full of false cheer and ersatz bonhomie. There's nothing genuine about him at all. How could he not be demonic?

The other Scoobies aren't in this much, really, but I like the contrast early on between Willow's offers from Yale and Harvard and Xander, contemplating his future as a member of the working class. But the other Scoobies aren't in it much; perhaps their absence is a big part of why Buffy goes off the rails.

I love the way this is going. But I hope the consequences live up to what has been done.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Bridge: Episode Six

"You're clever. I'm sure it'll come to you."

I was sort of lukewarm about the theme song initially but, exactly as with the new Soundgarden single, something has clicked and it's really growing on me. The lyrics are such wonderfully poetic gibberish, too, and it's tempting to read all sorts of unintended echoes from the story, whether they start as a cross in you or not.

This is a big, big episode. Lots of plot stuff happens, obviously, but Martin's life is suddenly falling apart. I say suddenly, but it feels earned; it was foreshadowed last episode. The moments of rage that we saw last episode are becoming more irrational, and his casual adultery- which we thought had been tied up last episode and which is, perhaps, another symptom- suddenly leads to him being thrown out of the marital home. And if that isn't enough, August is sleeping with Saga who, naturally, doesn't understand why he's upset. In this episode he goes to unreasonable lengths in his suspicions of both Stefan and Saif. He's losing his grip on the case, and it's Saga who makes the running.

And yet we're beginning to see possible chinks in Saga's armour, too. Her sister committed suicide at fourteen, the same age as Anja, and it's not hard to see the obvious link, that she blames herself for both of their deaths. Martin instinctively sees this connection. Perhaps he understands her better than she understands herself. Perhaps he's seeing things that aren't there. Perhaps the point is simply that other people are always, in the end, unknowable. But it seems, right now, that Saga's distance from the world of feeling is leaving her in a better state than Martin.

Interestingly, the murderer seems to understand Saga too, to an extent. The conversation between the two of them indicates that she may even be a factor in his plan. But it's her, of course, who works out in the very last moment that he must be a police officer. He certainly knows stuff that only police officers would know.

As for other characters- well, Saif and his unnamed father are more or less stereotypes, or more charitably stock characters who could have stepped out of a Hanif Kureishi novel but then, I suppose, they're only there to dramatise the murderer's latest "problem", the failure of integration and the treatment of immigrants. Interestingly, though, Saga is beginning to suspect that all of these issues are just a smokescreen; the murderer's motive is personal, not political.

Interestingly, Ferbé starts to fall apart here, too, with his overdose on pills in that horrible trendy club. He seems quite shaken by it all, suddenly aware of mortality and disturbed that he technically died briefly, yet there was no tunnel of light, only darkness. For someone with such an ego it must be terrifying to contemplate the extinction of that ego. Ake, meanwhile, seems to be taking his place. Perhaps nice guys sometimes finish first.

Yet again, I have no idea where this is going, and I love it.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Bridge: Episode Five


"It's an unwritten law.

"I don't know any of those."

This is an episode of shocks. It's a shock that Anja's creepy, samurai-obsessed host should kill someone, randomly, mere seconds into the episode. It's a shock that Anja herself should be attacked without warning, and die in hospital halfway through her drawing. And it's a shock that Martin is starting to become affected by things. He slaps Lars Jonsson, our samurai-wielding schizophrenic. Much as he is genuinely fond of Saga, he begins to snap at her. And he cheats on his wife with Charlotte.

This is a deeply significant moment, especially as Charlotte, herself a wronged woman, post-coitally asks him what it's like to cheat on his wife, which must feel like a punch. He spends the rest of the episode denying this act, in various ways. It's an episode where his character becomes foregrounded and where his flaws become manifest, and even more of a contrast to Saga's apparent serenity.

Saga's "strange" nature gives us some more comedy, although much less broad. Her shag of a few episodes ago makes himself useful again, this time more aware of what's going on. And Saga seems very together and very efficient. It's easy to see how people can be fond of her- Mette is amused, rather that offended when Saga, unexpectedly invited to dinner, says matter-of-factly that the food "wasn't tasty".  Interestingly, she makes a great impression on August, who is very much on the same wavelength. Of course, going by what we already know, this could imply that he's the killer.

He's far from the only suspect, though. Stefan's story becomes more and more interesting. Although he begins to defend himself from Veronika's psychopath husband, he continues to batter him once unconscious, which would seem to be manslaughter. Now he has a body to hide, at a time when he's made Martin very suspicious and he's under surveillance. And Martin also believes that Anja's drawing is of him. Is this too neat, though? I wonder if the cut to the next scene at this point is supposed to make us suspect Henning, the surprisingly acquitted policeman?

The killer's third social problem is cuts to treatment of the mentally ill, hence several paranoid schizophrenics being driven to kill in both Malmo and Copenhagen. And this is an episode in which people's mental stability is beginning to fray a little. Even Ake begins to realise just what a contemptible shit Ferbé is, cheerfully printing the addresses of schizophrenics and exposing them to violence. I think (and hope) the murderer has a comeuppance in mind for him.

Another new thread is the acquittal, and its effects on the family of the dead man, an almost clichéd pair of the moderate son and the radicalised son, Saif. Access to justice is, we again learn, not equal. Saif will clearly have a part to play, but I have no idea what will happen next. Next episode tomorrow...

Monday, 7 May 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Zeppo

"Boy, of all the humiliations you've had that I've witnessed… that was the latest."

Yep, just as I thought: after last week's traversal of the emotional wringer we get a nice little comedy episode. And it's rather good. It also addresses head-on what's becoming a troubling part of the structure of the series: everyone else has superpowers or abilities, so what's Xander's role? Fortunately it's one of those questions which can't be ignored but doesn't really need to be answered. We just need to know that the writers are aware of it. As long as that's so, then Jimmy Olsen jokes are enough.

Probably the funniest thing about this episode, though, is the "b" plot, with Buffy, Angel, Willow, Faith (properly in this episode) and Giles (now redeemed, at least in the eyes of the Scoobies) facing the biggest threat they've ever faced in scenes of hilarious, po-faced melodrama. The scene between Buffy and Angel is particularly funny and shows just how amazing Sarah Michelle Gellar is. Not many people have the ability to portray real anguish and heartbreak with a comic subtext, but she does. And I love the glimpses of the terrible monsters, fleshed out by the descriptions of unseen things. It's wonderful that we know these characters well enough by now to do something like this.

Oh, and Xander pops his cherry, of course ("Oh, I'm up!"), courtesy of Faith feeling horny after a fight. It's rather amusing that she should chuck him out once she's used him, just like Saga in The Bridge, this blog's other series of the moment.

The "a" plot baddies, essentially zombies without the shuffling, are the perfect metaphor for macho, laddish wankers. They might not seem to act any differently as zombies that they did when alive, but the implication is that people like that are zombies to start with. And the fact that Xander is almost killed as part of an initiation ceremony is also rather symbolic about that kind of lifestyle, a lifestyle which has made the leap from laddishness to gangs. Equally symbolic is the fact that they're all dead in the first place.

The climax sees Xander not only overcoming his fear and being brave, but showing himself to be braver, more in control, and ultimately more of an alpha male than O'Toole, who then proceeds to be randomly killed as his usefulness to the plot is now at an end. I love that kind of wink to the viewer. The shortest ever "Previously, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer…" runs it a close second, though. Right from the opening moments we know this episode is going to be funny.

I suppose I ought to mention Oz's werewolf suit- it's bloody awful in this episode- but that's the only real flaw. This series is on fire at the moment.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Helpless

"That's beautiful. Or, taken literally, incredibly gross.""

Last episode, Buffy's mother betrayed her; I'd say that burning your daughter at the stake certainly counts. Even so, there were extenuating circumstances. Plus there was a reset button, even if it wasn't pressed down fully. But this time Buffy's surrogate father betrays her, and there are big, big consequences. Even beyond the immediate ripples, from this point onwards there'll be something of the suddenly unemployed, washed-up dad to Giles. Parents can disappoint; that's part of growing up. So is recognising that adults are not infallible, and beginning to question them and their institutions. The Watchers, for example. What gives them the right to assert their authority? To whom are they accountable? Why, as the loathsome Nadine Dorries might say, are they all such posh boys?

In fact, lets's have a closer look at the central concept of this episode, shall we? The Slayer, someone whom the Council would presumably consider quite valuable, is put through a highly dangerous rite of passage on her eighteenth birthday, as part of some bizarre "what doesn't kill me only makes me stronger" type logic. It's stupid. Self-evidently stupid, as we clearly see by the fact that Kralik escapes and people die. It might be centuries-old tradition, but so was slavery, once. Buffy's now an adult, and suddenly her fellow adults, and their silly institutions, have their flaws exposed.

Most of all, though, this is a story about fathers and daughters. In a nice piece of foreshadowing, Buffy's real father betrays her by failing to show up for the traditional birthday ice show, just minutes before the shocking scene where we see how surrogate father Giles is hypnotising Buffy and injecting her with, er, either red or gold kryptonite, although I suspect Oz is right on that one.

The emotional core of the episode is Giles' confession to Buffy, and her total and devastating rejection of him ("Who are you?"), which is really, really sold by another incredible performance from Sarah Michelle Gellar. He only really redeems himself by risking his life to save hers at the end, and by the fact that he gets himself fired by refusing to do the Council's bidding. There's another huge moment where Travers says to Giles that "You have a father's love for the child, and that is useless for the cause." At last, someone says it out loud. And the scene of Giles gently washing Buffy's wounds is just as touching. He might have been fired as a Watcher, but he's still the father figure in spite of everything.

The scenes of Buffy walking alone, at night, powerless, are deeply disturbing, given that the premise of the show is the reversal of the idea of damsel in distress and, up to a point, a challenge to the male gaze. Now the reversal is reversed, and she has to put up with the misogynistic gibes of wankers and flee from threatening men while screaming for help. Kralik, too, is not simply a vampire; the supernatural veneer is very thin in his case. He's a psychopath, a sadist, something out of a slasher movie, and the whole sequence of Buffy's test feels very much like a slasher movie, right down to the incidental music. It's a genre that had to be done, I suppose.

Where now, though? What happens to Giles? What will Buffy's new Watcher be like?  And where's Faith?