Friday, 31 August 2012

Angel: The Ring

"Why aren't Wolfram and Hart in here?"

"Because they're lawyers, not demons?"

"Fine line, if you ask me…"

The first rule of The Ring is- sorry, cheap joke. Actually, this episode owes nowhere near as much to Fight Club as I thought I remembered, certainly not as much as a certain episode of Torchwood. Roman gladiator movies and Raymond Chandler struck me as much bigger influences. No, really.

Obviously, we have Angel being Spartacus here, leading the revolt of the reluctant slaves and proving the moral lesson that banding together makes more sense that rugged individualism and all that. But he's never been more heroic or noble, turning down the promise of life and freedom just because of his moral principles. He's a man with the chivalrous value system of a knight from a mediaeval romance who lives in modern, urban California. I suppose it's odd, in hindsight, that I haven't noticed this blatantly obvious point before. Duh.

The other interesting character point is the continuing development of Wesley; he has some klutz moments, yes, but he also gets wittier dialogue and even a genuine badass moment as he beats up the bookie. Both he and the impressively resourceful Cordelia are shown to be an effective part of Angel Investigations, although this episode makes it even less clear exactly how the business stays afloat; they get their first client for ages and he turns out not to be genuine, or anywhere near as concerned about his brother's life as he claims.

Season arc-wise, though, this is fascinating. Wolfram and Hart (plus Lindsay) were introduced in City of… but we've seen pretty bugger all of them until now, rather close to the end of the season. But this time their actions seem to be leading to something, and the deliciously amoral Lilah Morgan gets her first appearance, getting herself a great scene with Angel where she does the Mephistopheles thing... Things are slowly becoming more and more like the programme Angel will become, but there's some way to go yet.

I was surprised just how much I enjoyed this episode. Yes, it was derivative, but the plot was well executed and the script sparkled.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Who Are You

"You can't do that! It's wrong!"

This seems, at first, as though it's going to be predictable: Buffy and Faith have switched bodies because of some McGuffin. We can see the sort of direction in which this is headed, right? Except that we then see that it's both written and directed by Joss Whedon. Immediately we begin to suspect that this is going to be much cleverer than we expected.

We in Doctor Who fandom often speak of "Doctor lite" episodes, in which the Doctor is largely absent for production reasons but this makes us all the more aware of the Doctor because of the gap he leaves behind. This is a Buffy lite episode in that sense, albeit one that happens to star Sarah Michelle Gellar as Faith. And Gellar's mastery of all Faith's mannerisms is scarily brilliant.

The whole shape of the episode is relievingly focussed on Faith's reaction to living Buffy's life, and gradually becoming her, as opposed to lots of potentially frustrating scenes of Buffy being misunderstood and disbelieved. Yes, there are scenes with Buffy and a few annoying idiots from the Watchers' Council, but that's fine because they're idiots. The "British" dialogue is really awkward, though, which is really surprising from Joss Whedon, who previously has always got it right. They refer to the UK as "the mother country", a phrase no Brit would ever use: we're not Russians! And as for "Stop her, you ponce!"…. oh dear!

Still, all the scenes with Faith in Buffy's body are incredible to behold. I love the shot with the mirror, early on, and Faith's slow gradual acceptance of the hero's role. The whole thing pivots on the sex scene with the unwittingly unfaithful Riley, as Faith experiences slow, loving sex for the first time and is disturbed by it. There's a slightly troubling aspect to this- Faith, like the vampires in this show, is kinky, and this seems to be a bit of a signifier of nefariousness, like smoking. This scene can only really be read as saying that Faith learns the error of her bad, kinky ways and learns the value of loving, emotional sex, as though the two were mutually exclusive. It's a surprisingly and disturbingly judgemental and puritanical message.

Still, the other sex scene is much nicer and cuter, even if, what with it being a lesbian sex scene and this being the USA in 2000, it has to be shown in metaphor. But the intense, sweaty "spell" between Willow and Tara clearly shows us that, as Faith notices, they're a couple. Oh, and that exchange ("I am, you know." What?" "Yours.") just made me melt. The two of them are such an adorable couple. Even better, the two of them are more or less now officially "out", at least in Scooby circles.

The ending is perfect, with Faith angrily lashing out at Buffy for looking like her and hating the bad things she's done and the choices she's made. The body swap doesn't last, but at least for Faith there now seems to be a chance of redemption.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

RoboCop (1987)

"Best way to steal money is free enterprise."

Right. The next five Saturdays will be Doctor Who nights. That means no movie reviews until after then, probably. So here's one last review slipped in while I can…

This is a very unusual film, far more so than it appears at first glance. It's an '80s macho action film with loads of posturing, gore and violence, a genre we all know well. Thing is, though, we all vaguely assume, correctly, there's something intrinsically right wing about genre. Interesting, then, that RoboCop should be so centred around a central message. Because this is a film about the excesses of privatisation. OCP has already run prisons and hospitals and now, with inevitable corruption, it runs the police. I look at this film, I look at the creeping privatisation of the police under the UK's Coalition government, and I'm scared.

Not that the film, with its vague near-future setting, is prescient in all things, of course. "Old Detroit" seems rather more populated than the Detroit of 2012. Characters are seen smoking indoors. The fashions are irredeemably '80s. But the political satire is frighteningly accurate; a privatised police force leads, inevitably to corruption. Even before we find out that Clarence Boddicker is working for Dick Jones we're clearly shown that there's a moral equivalence: that quote up there comes from Boddicker. In Old Detroit there's no public service, only profit. And no one at OCP displays and moral sense at any point whatsoever. The difference between Bob Morton and the other executives is pure hubris; they're no more moral than he is. We're given constant contrasts between the violent world of the overtly criminal and the no less disgusting world of the corporate, a world of cocaine, hookers, ruthless competition and (literally, with ED-209!) blood on the carpet. The corporate world is completely unglamorous: Wall Street this ain't. There's a good symbolic reason why we get so many scenes set in the toilet.

All this is further shown by the hilarious news broadcasts, which eerily foreshadow The Day Today but are gloriously dark, with an aggressively nuclear apartheid South Africa and the Star Wars "Peace" platform. This is also a nice narrative device for moving the plot along. RoboCop is a very pacey film. It's also a very violent, gory film, of course (especially Emil and the chemicals!!!), which is the main thing noticed by my eleven year old self when I first saw the film, hired from the local video shop. It feels a long time ago.

It's not perfect; Peter Weller's acting is not unlike a plank of wood. There's also an embarrassing plot hole: why does OCP sent RoboCop to a precinct where he might be recognised as Murphy? But it's witty, brilliantly shot by Paul Verhoeven, and gloriously violent. RoboCop is a true '80s video classic. I hadn't seen it for about twenty years, which is shocking. Don't make the mistake I did!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Henry V (Richard Eyre, 2012)

"Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it."

In a way, it's rather annoying that I've done so much musing over the disconnect between Shakespeare's plotting dialogue, specifically written to be performed on a stage, with all the limitations that implies, and the medium of television, and sumptuously shot location shots to boot. If I'd waited until now to talk about I would have had so much to say. After all, consider the chorus here- a gloriously metatextual character, probably played originally by Shakespeare himself, who refers to a "wooden O" and apologises for the compression of time which all historical dramas do and which his bits help to elide. It's particularly eyebrow-raising to hear John Hurt declaiming apologies for not being able to represent the battle scenes properly as we watch brilliantly realised battle scenes. It's a juxtaposition that seems almost deliberately intended to highlight the tension between media.

Metatextual stuff aside, though, and briefly mentioning that this is my first experience of the play, not just there's an intriguing political subtext. This play follows on directly from its predecessors, even to the point of featuring Bardolph, Pistol, Mistress Quickly and (sort of) Falstaff. We can assume, then, that there's a continuity of theme, and that the examination of the nature of kingship should be understood in relation to this continuity. In fact, There's an interesting scene, on the morning of the battle, when he pleads with God not to punish him for the sins of his father, insisting that "I Richard's body have interred anew". Hence, presumably, his determination to attribute his eventual victory to God alone, and perhaps even his very determination to pursue his claims in France- an assertion of royal legitimacy and, perhaps, one his usurping father could not have made.

Hal may be very different from his former self, as we clearly see when he approves the hanging of his old mate Bardolph. The prevention of looting in captured towns is more important to a king than old friendships, however oddly this may sit with his later orders to kill all the prisoners!!! But is he really all that good a king? Because, unusually for Shakespeare, I think I can detect a definite authorial voice at work in this play. And that voice is asking why on Earth should ordinary people suffer and die in war just to satisfy the "honour" of lords and kings. Shakespeare, I think, would have seen honour as Falstaff did, not as King Harry does here. Which, then, is the more virtuous? Shakespeare gives us a king who seems to fit all the conventional notions of the good king, and then questions that. After all, he kills prisoners, betrays his friends, and wages war for his personal "honour". It's a very different angle on kingship from its three prequels, but it's fascinating, important, and rounds out the thematic whole that is the four plays on kingship.

Tom Hiddleston is extraordinary, and pulls off the task of making Hal and King Henry seem simultaneously very, very different and yet absolutely the same person. His two main speeches are surprisingly low-key and un-Olivier-like.

To finish, it's interesting for this Leicestershire native to hear Pistol addressing his new wife, the former Mistress Quickly., as "me duck!" It seems that our ways of speaking once spread much further southwards than they do now. And it's a bit of a bolt to be reminded that King Henry died at 35, the age I am now. He conquered France… what have I done?

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Angel: The Prodigal

"Since she tried to kill me, it's been different…"

Oooh boy. This season has generally had a strong "monster of the week" feel. Excessively so, much as the individual episodes have often been good. But this episode, for once, is arc, arc, arc. We have a hint that there are things afoot which don't involve reset buttons.

We see Kate's continuing struggle to accept who Angel is, and to grasp that there are such things as vampires and demons, completely shattering the world view that underpins all her values; what use is a cop against such things? How can she possibly protect the public? There's a rapprochement, of sorts, in the middle of the episode, but she ends the episode still feeling as she did at the start, but with added grief. Will she and Angel ever reconcile? Still, the concept of demons on PCP (with added eye of newt!) is pretty damn brilliant, as is the fact that Angel can't prevent Lockley Snr's death because he hasn't been invited in although, interestingly, he's able to enter from the moment of the owner's death. Of course, I'm still watching this show like a hawk for the inevitable moment when Anger enters a property and shouldn't be able to…..

But this episode is mainly about fathers. Kate, in the present, sees her father sin, and suffer death as a consequence, leaving so many things unsaid between them. This is strongly paralleled with scenes between Liam, in 1753, and his own father, a similarly difficult-to-please figure.

But there's a third father, intriguingly: Darla. It was she who "sired" Angel: note the masculinity of the verb, which neatly implies that she is his father as well as his lover. That seems more than a little disgustingly incestuous, yes, and no, it wasn't a sentence I was particularly expecting to be writing this morning.

It's a bit strange, though, to bring back a character, even in flashback, after so long. We haven't seen Darla since the early episodes of Buffy Season One, after all. Casual or first time viewers won't even remember her. I certainly didn't, on my first marathon trek through the Buffyverse.

We learn a few more things about Liam, most notably his year of birth (1727; he turns 23 in 2000), and the circumstances of his awakening as a vampire and his first kill. A possible source of the nickname Angel is even rather awkwardly crowbarred in.

Things end on a rather unresolved not, in terms of Kate and Angel's relationship but also in a wider sense. But I think Kate is wrong to doubt Angel's humanity; his body may be all vampire, but that's not who he is.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Free Enterprise (1999)

"What would William Shatner do?"

I can't believe I'd never heard of this film until a few weeks ago. It's essentially a romantic comedy set in the world of geek culture. It very much like (and as good as) a Kevin Smith film (Chasing Amy in particular), but with William Shatner instead of Jay and Silent Bob. It's funny, witty, and well worth seeing.

There are a lot of Star Trek references in here, of course, but the net of geeky cultural references is cast wide enough to please everyone. Personally, I'm someone who watches and enjoys Star Trek (except Voyager and Enterprise, cos they're rubbish), but I'd stop short of calling myself a fan. Doctor Who fandom has become a huge part of my social life, and I've dipped a toe into Buffyverse fandom. Star Trek, much as I enjoy it, is lacking in a certain quirkiness, and I suppose I'm not too keen on the authoritarian Utopianism of the whole concept of the Federation. Also, I have this general impression (which may be very, very wrong!) is a different culture from the fandoms I'm used to, which tend to be vaguely left of centre and don't take themselves too seriously. The original series still rules, though, and I also like TNG, much as I always side with Q.

This film makes me wonder if I'm wrong about Star Trek fandom, though. The characters are likeable, funny and (sort of) cool. They're very, very South Californian, what with all the mutual psychoanalysing that goes on, they all seem to work in "the industry", and Bob and Mark, at least, seem to live in very nice-looking apartments, but ultimately they're people I can identify with.

It's interesting, though, that one thing that's dated since 1999 has been the concept that girls don't get geek culture, which is nowhere near as true as it once was. Geekery is not as marginalised as it was then. Then again, it wasn't really until the '90s that adult geek culture really began to get noticed by the media at all.

I also like the way that the film sharply differentiates between Bob's geekery and his immaturity. He's not immature because he's a geek; Claire's as much of a geek as he is. He's immature because he's useless with money and gets himself stupidly fired. It's refreshing how this film makes a clear distinction between being childish (bad thing) and being childlike (bad thing).

Mark, of course, is nearly 30, after which it is of course all downhill. I like the way the film Logan's Run (must see that someday!) gets used to symbolise this. It's one of many nice little touches in the film. My favourite is the scene with, er, some very, very dangerous driving, although Mark's stirring monologue towards the end comes a close second. It's nice how the plot ends, in true romantic comedy style, with Bob, Mark and the Shat all being paired off.

It's nice, for once, to have a film where all the actors are unknowns, and you don't get distracted by actor-spotting. This also means that the film's guest star, the Shat himself, really gets to stand out and shine, cheerfully taking the piss out of himself. Still, a six hour musical version of Julius Caesar, with William Shatner playing all the characters? I don't know about you, but I'd pay good money to see that.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Henry IV, Part II (Richard Eyre, 2012)

"Presume not that I am the thing I was!"

It's been a while since I reviewed Part I, I know. The last few weeks have been somewhat unusual, though. The blog is now back to normal and you can expect Henry V fairly sharpish, probably next Saturday. I was actually going to review a film today but I really have to get these Hollow Crown adaptations watched and reviewed as I recorded them off the telly and they're taking up too much space. So, the current schedule is Shakespeare for two consecutive Saturdays, after which Saturday (or Sunday if I happen to be out Saturday) will be where I review new episodes of Doctor Who. I'll be doing a film on Bank Holiday morning. Only one other person (yes, you, Nick!) knows what it is. After the five weeks of Doctor Who then Saturdays will revert to films again, although I also plan to slot in a recording of Macbeth from BBC 4 at some point. The rest of the week will be all Buffy and Angel.

So, Part II. Again, the only one of these plays I've read or seen before is Richard II, so forgive me if I react to a play that is new to me. There's a real sense of foreboding right from the start. All these parallels of different pairs of fathers and sons are soooo last play. The old Earl of Northumberland, such a presence in the last play, gets only two scenes, in one of which he suffers the bereavement of his much-loved son, and another in which he buggers off out of the play. It's interesting that the scene in which he hears of his bereavement should take place amongst such bleakly beautiful Northumberland countryside.

But this play, unlike its predecessor, is concerned with just one father and one son. Even Falstaff, this time, is no longer a father figure; he and Hal are on strained terms from the beginning, and Simon Russell Beale gives Falstaff a palpable anxiety throughout, as if he knows, deep down, that the prince will disown him. There's much more emphasis on his physical age, even to the point of a sex scene which makes it clear that his performance is not what it was. Tom Hiddleston, too, gives us a more serious prince from the beginning, with the frailty and mortality of his father weighing upon his mind.

This play is much more serious than its prequel. It's not that there isn't comedy- there are some glorious insults in the scene where Falstaff is arrested, and Robert Shallow is a brilliant comic creation. But there's an ever-present sense of decline and doom which can only be redeemed by the accession of a king freed from the original sin of being a usurper. The old king visibly declines throughout the play, and becomes much more morose and philosophical, even getting a soliloquy on his insomnia, which even kings are subject to. Like Cnut, this king knows that nature marks a limit to his power. Perhaps there's also a suggestion that his inability to sleep, and the tumult that besets his realm, are a result of his illegitimacy as a king. It's significant that he even quotes Richard.

We're reminded that Falstaff, as a knight, has certain feudal obligations in time of war as we see him recruiting peasants to take with him.  One of them, Ralph Mouldy, points out that his wife and children will have no breadwinner while he's away fighting, a reminder that these aristocratic wars have cruel consequences for those further down the scale. Another peasant is fatalistic about his possible death, a motif that recurs throughout the latter stages of the play: as Shallow points out, "Death is certain". For everyone in this play, death is very near. Shallow is conscious of his many dead acquaintances; he sees his generation beginning to pass away. The king is dying. People die in wars, "traitors" are casually and summarily executed, and there are many, many mentions of old Falstaff's mortality, which culminate in his admonishment from the new King Henry V.

This scene is the fulcrum of both plays, of course: the new king's "I know thee not, old man." His new, royal persona is so very different from the playboy prince of the recent past but then, of course, as we knew from Hal's soliloquy at the start of the previous play, the playboy prince was no less of a mask than the kingly one. Hal has to clearly separate the man and the king, having learned from his father that kingship is a burden.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: This Year's Girl

"It's just with…"

"Little sis coming, I know. So much to do before she gets here!"

Gosh, that's an interesting bit of dialogue. What on Earth could it possibly mean?

This episode is probably more fun of stuff than any Buffy episode ever, as Faith wakes up at precisely the least convenient moment. Even the "Previously on…" segment is the busiest one ever. Not only do we have all the "current" characters making an appearance, plus Faith, but Joyce and even the late Mayor put in an appearance. There's a fair bit going on here.

It's interesting, given the fact that Adam is at the forefront of all our minds, that the early scenes, with Faith in a coma, should use imagery which so strongly hints at Frankenstein. Also interesting is that Faith should spend much of this episode subtly but symbolically dressed as Red Riding Hood. I have no idea what either of these things mean. The extended dream sequences early on are interesting and mystifying, too. The Mayor is obviously the father figure, taking Faith on a fatherly picnic, but the snake? Obviously it refers to his death but also, you know. It's a bit phallic. Faith makes a joking reference to "some stuff about cigars and a tunnel", but most of this subtext is going right over my head.

Still, Faith is back, and she's dangerous. Everybody's scared of her. But there's so much else going on here, albeit with her as the catalyst; she isn't going to really move beyond that and start doing the bad stuff until next episode. So here she just lurks around, while her presence causes things to happen, such as Buffy failing to explain about her sunlight-averse ex to Riley, Joyce realising that Buffy hasn't paid much attention to her for months, and Spike having to exclaim "Can't any of you damned Scooby club at least try to remember that I hate you all?". Of course, this is also a bit of a rebuke to us viewers for too quickly accepting Spike's unwilling role as good guy, and thus pleasingly meta.

Riley is learning to live in a world with shades of grey in it, with the help of his adoring girlfriend. They're very lovey-dovey here, but there's an underlying tragedy; Riley has given up everything he believed in for her and firmly deciding whose side he's on, agreeing to act as the Scoobies' double agent in the Initiative. Buffy is now the sole centre of all meaning in his life. And yet… the signs are that Buffy isn't that into him; for all her fussing over him and her genuine deep affection, there are all sorts of signs that the relationship isn't going to last for ever. When it ends, where will Riley go?

Once again I have to give a shout out to Amber Benson for some outstandingly good physical acting, but also to Sarah Michelle Gellar who, as the star, is easy to take for granted. The last five seconds of the episode remind us just how good an actress she is.

Oh, and I like the new wardrobe for the Watchers' Council. Very fetching.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Angel: I've Got You Under My Skin

"Pretend to read any good books lately?"

Another standalone episode, this. I suppose it was inevitable that Angel would eventually do The Exorcist. (Which, er, I haven't actually seen at this point. I must blog it sometime). This is a fairly standard runaround with the tropes, really, with a couple of nice bits of misdirection: the sinister-looking father is nothing of the sort, and the boy is more evil than the demon. It's a nice and well-crafted self-contained forty-two minute story. Unlike the previous episode, it has a fair few interesting character moments. And it's anything but skippable.

For one thing, Wesley gets a bit more hinterland as we learn that he was afraid of his father, who he believes to be disappointed in him. We're obviously going to return to this. On the other hand, this episode continues the trend whereby he's becoming incrementally more brave and heroic. If Wesley's going to become established as a regular then his character is going to have to move beyond the role of comic relief. Angel is still profoundly affected by Doyle's death. And Cordelia, of course, makes some valid points about nursery rhymes, although she seems to be something of a gullible shopper. The end of the episode, and the awkwardness between Angel and Kate, hints that some kind of reckoning between the two of them is coming soon.

I can't help but admire the nuts and bolts of the plotting here. Angel, of course, has to be invited into the Andersons' house, but the plot rather cleverly arranges for this to happen in as subtle a way as possible. The misdirection with the father is done so very cleverly- he even smokes, so he must be villain, right? Even cleverer is the fact that the father's matches have an important role to play at the end. But the episode turns on a sixpence at the moment Ryan is revealed as the demon, and his parents both immediately switch roles in their attitude to Angel. That's a very neat and clever bit of plotting.

If I could be allowed a digression, though… what is it with suburban America and picket fences? You can just step over the silly things. They look absurd. Why on Earth do people have them?

Monday, 13 August 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Goodbye Iowa

"You know, you should really get yourself a boring boyfriend, like Xander.

You can't have Xander!"

This isn't the first time I've compared Buffy, or Joss Whedon serials generally, to Chris Claremont's run on X-Men in the 1980s. (Apologies to non-comic geeks; just skip the next couple of sentences and it'll be fine!) We have a combination of a fast-moving, ever-changing status quo and a strong focus on characterisation which just seems so very close in style that I suspect there's a strong, direct influence. If so, it works as well on screen as it did on the comic book page. This episode is big, important, arc-defining, but essentially all about character, character, character.

Riley is now suffering the after-effects of his failure to ask questions, as the fact that everything he knew was wrong causes his entire world to fall apart. His emotional denial that Walsh – his surrogate mother- could do such terrible things is paralleled by the cold turkey he's going through, having been unknowingly fed a kind of super-soldier serum. There's a very strong parallel between the physical and mental symptoms, to the point where each is a metaphor for the other. The emotional heart of the episode is Riley realising he can't kill an old demon lady. There's hope for him, but by the end of the episode it still hasn't arrived. These things take time. And Buffy realises he needs her, she cares deeply, but nothing she tries can make him any better. They're in love, at this precise moment, but they're not soulmates and they never will be. Riley's the unquestioning sort who does as he's told and needs certainty as a bedrock. Buffy questions things and needs to decide things for herself before there can be any certainty. It's tempting to see two opposing political and philosophical positions here, not exactly left vs. right but authoritarianism vs. liberalism.

Elsewhere, the season arc is explored in the biggest info-dump so far. If it wasn't blatant enough that Adam is a version of Frankenstein's monster, we get a rather distressing scene with a small child in the forest which quite pointedly evokes a similar scene from James Whale's Frankenstein. And it's Adam who, most kindly, gives us a much-needed shot of exposition towards the end of the episode. And yes, he's the season's Big Bad, here at last.

In other news, Willow and Tara continue to make sweet, romantic magic in an increasingly obvious metaphor for sex acts, which is lovely. Amber Benson continues to be amazing in how she portrays the socially awkward Tara. Willy's back, and it's great to see him again. It suddenly strikes me just how huge Xander's basement is. Probably the coolest thing in this episode is Spike's thumbs-up gesture to the suggestion of Buffy's being killed, but it's clear that there's no way back for him; the demon grapevine has heard what he's been up to. Life seems to be railroading him into Scoobydom, whether he likes it or not.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Angel: She

"I was so glad you came. You know how parties are? You're always worried that no one's gonna suck the energy out of the room like a giant black hole of boring despair. But, there you were in the clinch!"

Well, that was mostly rubbish. A rather pointless riff on the whole Stepford Wives trope. The whole concept feels out of place in this show, grounded as it is in vampires, demons and other such elements of the horror genre. This episode felt like science fiction, and that jarred.

Worse, it didn't seem to have anything to say. The concept- a race where men enslave their women by, in effect, lobotomising them, symbolically amputating the seat of their sexuality. At first I thought there might be something of a subtext about female genital mutilation, but on balance I'm not sure there's a subtext at all. And that's a problem. Without some kind of authorial message about gender roles, feminism or the like, a concept like this is pretty much pointless.

On the other hand, though, everything about the episode that wasn't the actual plot was pretty darned good. I loved Cordelia's party, although there's nothing like a party scene to graphically show how awful the fashions were back then. Was it really only twelve years ago?

I'm with Angel, I have to say. Parties are generally not fun. They're full of endless small talk , and endless small talk is not my idea of a good time. I think that's what we were supposed to conclude, interestingly; Angel's conversation with the woman who has a Masters in Fine Arts but is running a sandwich shop pretty much highlights the desperation and loneliness of life in the big city, a running theme of Angel. I think we're supposed to see the party as essentially this in microcosm. Alas, only Angel and Dennis seem to understand this basic truth.

Also, Wesley is now officially an employee of Angel Investigations, after a surprisingly long time. All three of our leads continue to be great, with the three characters having a fantastic dynamic together. Angel gets the best moments, though. I love his hatred of mobile phones, although the phone he's using looks absolutely prehistoric in 2012. And his brief stint as a guide in the art gallery is the coolest thing ever. I'm not sure it makes much sense that the cruel and evil Angelus would have been so pally with Baudelaire, but the whole thing is so cool that I'm going to overlook that.

Also, of course, I love what they do with the closing titles. Otherwise, though, this is a plodding, pointless and eminently skippable episode.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The I in Team

"Everyone's getting spanked but me!"

This is it, then. The pivot around which the whole fourth season turns. We finally get confirmation that the Initiative are not fluffy bunnies after all, and that Professor Walsh is actually rather unpleasant beneath that pleasant exterior. The status quo has changed. Oh, and welcome back to the blog. It's now back properly.

Initially we look as though we're getting an episode about the friction between Buffy's old mates and Buffy's new mates and, well, we are, but we're led to expect that this is going to be a running thread. It isn't; there's one bit of misdirection. There's a nice scene early on in which it looks as though Buffy and Riley are about to get jiggy for the first time, but in fact Buffy is about to be inducted into the Initiative. It's very funny but, this being a Joss Whedon show, and with apologies for the pretentiousness, it's also something of a synecdoche. By far the biggest bit of misdirection, of course, is Walsh's speech at the end, which really plays on our expectations of her being the Big Bad. Naturally, she gets a suddenly killed by Adam, her, er, son.

Ah yes, Adam. Earlier in the show Buffy used to do nice little homages to horror tropes including, in Some Assembly Required. This episode not only returns to the Frankenstein meme and promotes it to season arc status, but also nods to a second Universal movie by featuring a monster which looks uncannily like the thing in The Creature from the Black Lagoon or, if you prefer, Go Fish.

Of course, the emotional heart of the episode is Walsh's attempts, for her own sinister reasons, to engineer Buffy's death, thereby causing Buffy and Riley against her. For Buffy, who is independent and used to questioning things, this is relatively straightforward. For Riley, who doesn't ask questions (this pretty much gets rammed down our throats and, it's heavily stressed, is not a good thing), it's going to mean a lot of angst. Personally, I'm fascinated by the montage of Buffy and Riley, in slow motion, alternately fighting the Creature and having metaphorical / flashback sex, and then having actual sex, really good sex by the look of it, in slow motion. The implication is that it's really great sex, but also linked to fighting, and thus purely about the physical. These two are going to have some great sex together, but they're not going to be together for too long.

Still, I like the scene where Buffy wakes up, momentarily thinks Riley's not there, then realises that not only is he lying next to her but they're lying in the pinkest, fluffiest, most romantic bedroom in the history of ever.

Speaking of romance, Willow and Tara continue to be the cutest couple ever, and I have to single out Amber Benson for particular praise. She's extraordinary at portraying the body language of someone who's been hurt, bullied, and possibly abused.

We end with the status quo changed entirely. What now?

Thursday, 9 August 2012

I'm Baaaaack!


Right, that's a rather stressful couple of weeks done and over with. The blog is now officially back from its hiatus, and a normal schedule will resume from tomorrow, with the usual exceptions of nights at the pub, gigs, conventions etc..

The coming weeks see much more Buffy and Angel, a new season of Doctor Who, and the rest of the BBC's recent Shakespeare history plays...