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?