Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Out of Mind, Out of Sight

Warrior Woman Wednesday

Buffy comes to Cordelia's aid when an invisible assailant begins stalking her, determined to murder her before she wins the May Queen Ceremony.

The review for "Nightmares" can be read here.

In another life Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) had been a popular student, a cheerleader even, and something along the lines of how Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) presents herself now. Their rivalry is so intense because Cordelia is everything that Buffy once was, everything she wishes she still could be, and everything she hates about who she used to be, while Buffy is, at once, everything Cordelia is afraid of becoming, and while the two are more similar than either would care to admit, they refuse to associate with one another lest anyone notice how alike they really are.

Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) meets Angel (David Boreanaz) for the first time here, and while their exchange is entirely understated, it could be an indication towards Giles' trust in Buffy's instincts. Where a Watcher might be wary to have a vampire come to him unannounced, Giles instead takes into account everything that Buffy has told him and trusts that Angel is, indeed, as reformed as he claims. Perhaps knowing that he needs to get into the good books of Buffy's mentor, Angel offers to bring Giles a rare and valuable codex filled with cryptic prophecies of things to come, and the two show that they can relate to each other just as well as Angel relates to Buffy herself. In speaking about the invisible Marcie (Clea DuVall) Giles notes that "[invisibility is] an amazing power to possess," with Angel providing an opposing view of the situation, staring in the glass where his reflection should be and wishing that, just once, he could look in the mirror. Angel later acts as the savior to Giles, Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Xander (Nicholas Brendon,) all of whom are trapped in the basement, and asks that they not tell Buffy that he was there, proving that he's not simply helping them as a front for Buffy, but instead is actively working against the agents of evil.

Cordelia makes a real connection with Ms. Miller (Denise Dowse) and shows the possibility of an academic future as well as intense pride in the quality of her essay writing. So often a character like Cordelia would be cast aside into the role of the mean girl, the idiot cheerleader, but here she's given a sense of depth and is shown to be an actual intelligent person, working hard for her status as a popular cheerleader and good student. She later shows Buffy that there's more to her than what she presents to the world, asking if Buffy "thinks [she's] never lonely because [she's] cute and popular? [...] everyone's so busy agreeing with [her] they don't hear what [she] say[s]." Cordelia was created to cause conflict, to be the character that the audience was meant to root against, but in this moment she becomes so human and relateable that she feels like a genuine human being, and it adds an incredible sense of realism to this story.

On the other hand, this story writes Cordelia as being so self-centered that, when detailing a story about having hit a girl with her car, she states that it's unreasonable that the victim tried to make it about herself without a second thought to Cordelia's feelings on the situation. Certainly, the irony is that Cordelia's doing the exact same thing to the victim, but it's difficult to imagine that she doesn't understand the full implications of what she's doing here. Cordelia later worries about the state of her prom pictures because her date, Mitch (Ryan Bittle,) has suffered bruises all over his face, and she doesn't want to be remembered as the girl with an ugly date, despite having claimed earlier to have had genuine feelings for this boy. As the story closes Cordelia thanks Buffy and her friends for everything they had done for her, understanding that they went out of their way to help her out despite their toxic relationship, and even considers, briefly, Willow's offer to join them for lunch. Instead, Mitch arrives and starts mocking the group, to which Cordelia joins in and leaves without another word, and while the point is that Cordelia hasn't learned anything from her experience, it would have felt more genuine were she to say something to stop Mitch from spreading hate among Buffy's friends and just excuse the two of them from the situation entirely.

Marcie's revenge against Cordelia is to scar her face and make her as physically ugly as she made Marcie feel for so long, stating that Cordelia's attractiveness is "what makes [her] shine just a little bit brighter than all the rest of [them]." Certainly, Marcie's attacks on Cordelia make sense in this respect, and even her attack on Harmony (Mercedes McNab) is understandable given how Harmony treated Marcie in Cordelia's presence, but Marcie also had attacked both Mitch and Ms. Millar, who had nothing to do with the situation beyond their relation to Cordelia. There was no reason to involve Cordelia's favorite teacher or her current boyfriend unless they had done something to specifically attack Marcie in the past, and attacking them simply made her seem all the more insane. Having Marcie lash out and attack innocent people undermines the point she's trying to make here, and had she not posed a significant threat to anyone aside from Cordelia, she would have come across as much more sympathetic.

Carpenter is given the opportunity to flesh out her character here, and while she remains perfectly unlikeable throughout the story, she does an incredible job of it. Boreanaz, too, proves capable of adding depth to his character here, despite the often tenuous state of his acting ability so far. DuVall's work here suffers from being mostly voice-over work, but she and the rest of the cast provide fairly decent performances.

Director Reza Badiyi has some highs and lows in this episode, with most of the shots of invisible Marcie wielding weapons being somewhat amateurish. The shots of Marcie's baseball bat are awkward, especially as it's clear that Mitch isn't being struck at all in the attack, but instead the bat is smashing into the lockers beside him. The flashback sequence of Cordelia's conversation with Harmony cutting to a present-day conversation between the two is done fairly well, and the scene where Cordelia is strapped to a chair as Marcie cuts her face is very dramatic and tense. The high point of the episode comes when Buffy is forced to calm herself down and listen to the quiet of the room in order to figure out where Marcie is, standing still in slow-motion until finding the moment to strike.

Ashley Gable, Thomas A. Swyden and Joss Whedon come together to write this story, and immediately draw a parallel between Marcie's plight and Buffy, showing their protagonist feeling very cut off from her friends due to their constant stream of inside jokes. Buffy's loneliness is later expanded upon as she watches Cordelia and her friends trying on dresses, sad that that's no longer a part of her own life and realizing that, in the end, she'll need to cut herself off completely from her friends in order to protect them. The discovery of Marcie's yearbook, with every message stating only to "have a nice summer" is a good touch as it's very genuine to teenage interaction and lends credence to the idea that people perceived Marcie as invisible and she became so. In coming to Buffy for help, Cordelia makes her feel even more outcast from the rest of the student body, stating that "[Buffy]'s always around when this weird stuff is happening, and [she's] very strong, and [she has] all those weapons, and [Cordelia] was kind of hoping [Buffy was] in a gang," showing, for the first time, how aware Buffy's peers are of her strange nighttime habits and the conclusions they may already have drawn about her. Marcie eventually calls Cordelia on her poor little rich girl act, stating that she's not interested in whatever sob story Cordelia has to excuse her behavior, and Buffy's reaction is an interesting one; Buffy previously had lived Cordelia's life, and, aside from having a small group of friends, is living something akin to what Marcie experienced, making her the perfect middle man for this situation. In defeating Marcie and saving Cordelia, Buffy's not only well aware of Cordelia's own hand in the situation, but she also posits that this must have happened at other schools, too, noting that how Marcie was made to feel is all too common, and while Marcie was made out to be the villain of this piece, she's not fully to blame.

The ending to this story acknowledges the government's knowledge of supernatural happenings and also implies a working surveillance of either abnormalities within the country or withing Sunnydale itself. With a group of invisible assassins being trained by the government, it would only make sense that they might return to cause Buffy issues in the future, though in what capacity remains to be seen. Also of interest is the fact that Cordelia softens to Buffy and her friends in this episode, acknowledging the work they do and appreciating the fact that they actively saved her life.

The review for "Prophecy Girl" can be read here.


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