Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Harvest (Part 2)

Warrior Woman Wednesday

Buffy's identity as the slayer becomes known to the Master, an ancient vampire trapped beneath the city. Buffy and her friends must now work together to stop the Master's ascension and save the residents of Sunnydale from death.

 The review for "Welcome to the Hellmouth (Part 1)" can be read here.

Her mere presence having put her new friends in danger, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) finds herself thrust back into the dark world she tried to leave behind and struggles to keep safe those who depend on her. Her reluctance to accept her duty as the slayer is understandable, as there is so much that she must give up in order to do so, but her inability to stand by and watch as innocent people suffer ensures that she will leap back into the fray whenever she's needed.

Mark Metcalf is incredible as the villainous Master, bringing an incredible presence to the character without so much as meeting the protagonist of the piece. The danger that his character poses is palpable every time he appears on screen despite the fact that he's trapped underground, and it quickly becomes clear why the mysterious Angel (David Boreanaz) is so afraid of him. The Master gives a speech about one of his vampires becoming a vessel to facilitate his return to the Earth, and his domination of the scene, his enunciation and cadence is so proper and practiced that he grows more terrifying in how he presents himself.

Jesse's (Eric Balfour) display of how one changes due to vampirism is quite interesting; as a normal human he was unable to get any kind of positive attention from Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) but he now commands it from across the room. His new found control over his circumstances, his control over the situation, allows him to get a dance with Cordelia despite her initial protests, and he seems to have gained the animal magnetism and mystery that she claimed to be seeking in men. Cordelia is so shocked and off-put by Jesse's new attitude that she's unable to work out her attraction to him, as it's completely against everything she has ever known about him, and this is what makes vampires in this show so interesting. They are more than human but not quite demons, they are alluring in the most dangerous way because they can and will seduce you to the point that you'll welcome death.

As Buffy fights the vampire hoard attacking her friends, she first rescues Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and immediately runs off without a word. Granted, she was in a rush to save both Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Jesse, but she left Willow on the ground, already in shock due to the existence of vampires, having only barely survived an assault, and likely to be attacked again had she not followed Buffy. It's understandable that she would be in too much of a hurry to help Willow back to her feet, but at the very least she could have said something, anything, such as "stay close," or "we have to help Xander."

Some of the vampire makeup is a bit distracting in this episode, most notably the white claws and the grey skin. On the Master the claws look more natural, as he is constantly in a monstrous state, but having the regular vampires grow them every time they reveal their own nature is a poor choice, as if to emulate their fangs. Having Jesse go from his healthy human shade of skin to the grey-faced corpse whenever he puts on his vampire visage is a little confusing, but it looks especially strange on Julie Benz's Darla when combined with the maroon lipstick she's forced to wear.

The acting in this outing is a mixed bag from great to mediocre with a couple of confusing choices thrown in. Gellar and Carpenter excel in their roles of Buffy and Cordelia, both bringing a great enthusiasm to their work, and Anthony Stewart Head does a great job as watcher Giles. Metcalf is the standout of the group, playing the villain of the piece, and while neither Brendon and Hannigan are bad, per se, they seem to take a little while to find their identities here. Balfour seems incapable of playing fear, instead choosing a mixture of shocked and irritated when he should be worried for his life, and whatever emotion David Boreanaz is aiming for in his scenes, he seems to miss the mark, coming off as unnaturally arrogant and sarcastic when he should seem wise and mysterious.

John T. Kretchmer directs this episode with a number of great shots that really emphasize the grand scale that this series can achieve as well as a number of strange choices that take the audience out of the story. The Master being trapped in the ruins of a church is fantastic, and the dress setting for it here is both gorgeous and grotesque, and the slowly panning shot of Buffy bathed in blue light manages to showcase both her beauty and how deeply threatening she can be. The choice to have Buffy jump over the gate is ridiculous in both concept and practice, and it's beyond me why she wouldn't have just busted the lock with her strength, and Kretchmer uses piano crescendo during the big battle at the end of the episode that seems somewhat out of place, then chooses to use the same melody three more times in short succession that take away whatever impact he was going for every time it's used.

Written by Joss Whedon, this episode is filled with a number of good ideas, some of which are well executed while others are rushed to an end to facilitate other plot points. Giles expositing at the top of the episode about demons and monsters sounds very practices, as though he had been preparing this speech for his slayer as soon as he was chosen to become her watcher, emphasizing how important this position is to him as well as his need to seem as though he knows everything when it comes to the supernatural forces they battle. Joyce's struggle to find a parenting style is very realistic, at once infuriating and heart-breaking; the irony as she talks to Buffy about how not going out "will be the end of the world" is wrenching, as our slayer is at once trapped between her duty to the world and her desire to be loved by her parent. Jesse states that, in death, he has a greater connection to everything around him, able to hear the worms in the earth, his former friends now seen as mere shadows to him, and in this quick statement it's clear why the world of the undead is so tantalizing and fascinating. The ease and speed with which Willow decrypts the city council's security system is a little ridiculous for a tenth-grader, done only to hurry along their search for Jesse's location, and the acceptance that both Xander and Willow have in regards to his loss is beyond the pale. As the episode closes there is no time spent on mourning their friend, and it's very off-putting that these characters just seem to forget about someone so important to them.

Angel's connection to the Master and his crew is hinted at here, implied to be enemies, though it's fully possible that they were former allies. Also on display in this episode is Sunnydale Syndrome, wherein those who are witness to supernatural events rationalize them to the point of memory loss.

The review for "Witch" can be read here.


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