Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Prophecy Girl

Warrior Woman Wednesday

Giles unearths a prophecy stating that Buffy will die at the hands of the Master, and she questions whether she has the strength to defeat him.

The review for "Out of Mind, Out of Sight" can be read here.

Destined to lay down her life in the fight against evil, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) prepares to meet the Master (Mark Metcalf) knowing that she's not likely to walk away from the battlefield. Buffy considers her choices, of either walking toward death or running away, and forces herself to think about the ramifications of her actions and what might happen to her friends if she disappeared. Ultimately, Buffy decides to accept her role in life, unfair though it may be, and do everything she can to ensure the safety of those she loves.

Xander (Nicholas Brendon) practices a speech at the top of the episode expositing his feelings for Buffy, framed, initially, as though he's speaking directly to her, only to reveal instead that he's using Willow (Alyson Hannigan) as a stand-in. Xander's feelings for Buffy are mirrored in Willow's feelings for Xander, and in watching her reaction to his speech it's clear that she's pretending he's speaking to her as herself rather than imagining she's Buffy. It's heartbreaking to see Willow's defeat as she realizes that Xander will never feel about her the way she feels about him, and part of her pain comes from the fact that he will experience the same moment when Buffy likely rejects him later on. When Xander finally does gather the courage to tell Buffy that "[he] want[s her] to go to the dance with [him,]" just the two of them, "on a date," there's a moment of silence; Buffy had never realized that Xander's feelings for her were so strong and, having never thought of him in that way, she has no idea what to say, especially since she's well aware of Willow's feelings for Xander. Not wanting to spoil their friendship Buffy does her best to let him down easy, prompting Xander to give her an ultimatum, stating that "[she] either feel[s] a thing or [she doesn't,]" leading Buffy to admit that she, in fact, does not. The interaction between the two is very real, well-scripted, and feels like a genuine situation that, perhaps, writer Joss Whedon experienced once or twice himself. In trying to comfort Xander on his rejection, Willow soon finds herself rejecting him as he asks her to the dance in Buffy's place, stating that she doesn't "want to watch [him] wish [he] was at the dance with [Buffy.]" In many teen-oriented dramas this might spell the end of the friendship, but here Xander takes his time to lick his wounds, then, upon learning that Buffy's in danger, enlists her crush, and his rival, Angel (David Boreanaz) in an effort to save her.

Gellar is given some great material to work with here as Buffy overhears Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) and Angel talking about the prophecy foretelling Buffy's death. At learning she's about to die Buffy breaks down into indignant laughter, asking a series of questions about how she's supposed to accept that she's going to die and the next will be called, asking if Giles will train her or knows who she is, wondering if the prophecy says how the Master will kill her and if it will hurt. Gellar's performance in this scene is incredible, running a gamut of emotion as her despair turns into a fiery rage, leading her to state, once more, her retirement from duty, stating that "[Giles] can find someone else to stop the Master form taking over." Buffy eventually starts throwing Giles' books back at him, telling him to "read [her] the signs, tell [her her] fortune," stating that "[she's] sixteen years old. [She doesn't] want to die." The things she says in her grief are all very obvious, sometimes almost childish questions to ask, but they're all absolutely what one would ask in that situation, and it plays out very realistically. As she thinks on the situation she flips through her photo albums, reminiscing on better days, eventually trying to convince her mother (Kristine Sutherland) to take her away from Sunnydale for a while as a chance to bond. Giles, having seen how distraught his charge has become, caring too much for her to allow her to die, takes it upon himself to face the Master in Buffy's place, but Buffy, too, has a similar experience with Willow, and accepts her fate, knocking Giles unconscious to save his life and having the Anointed One (Andrew J. Ferchland) lead her to the Master and to her grave. It's only when she's confronted by the Master, moments from death, that he tells her that she's the one that sets him free, and that if she hadn't come he wouldn't be able to go. In her final moment Buffy learns that she has doomed the world by following her destiny, and as he bites down on her, dropping her face first into a pool of water, she dies with the knowledge that her friends and family will soon be dead.

Ms. Calendar (Robia LaMorte) comes onto the scene knowing that something's happening, which is understandable given her connection to the underground world of the supernatural, but Giles states that he's not sure whether or not he can trust her. Calendar's response is that "[she] helped [Giles] cast a demon out of the internet," shocked that he would doubt her after she helped him save the world, and immediately he accepts her and brings her into the fold. There really is no reason that he shouldn't have trusted her already, and given the number of teenagers he involves in dangerous situations, it feels inauthentic that he would dismiss someone who has experience in fighting evil when he thinks the world's about to come to an end.

The music as played in this episode is somewhat over dramatic, especially as Buffy works her way down into the Master's lair, creating a sense that the show was trying to be a little bit more epic than it really was and undercutting the mood somewhat. Likewise, the theme song playing as Buffy walks purposefully to her second fight against the Master is both a very powerful moment, but also slightly cheesy, especially given Gellar's delivery of "oh look, a bad guy," which may have worked on the page, but didn't come off as effectively in practice.

Hannigan proves her acting ability in Willow's reaction to finding the group of dead boys in the school, unable to stop sobbing as she describes the situation, incapable of explaining in words what it was like to walk into that room. "I'm not okay," she says, "I knew those guys. I go to that room every day, and when I walked in there it wasn't our world anymore, they made it theirs, and they had fun." Much like Gellar's earlier scene as Buffy hears of her death, Hannigan absolutely makes this sequence, and the dynamic between she and Gellar is phenomenal here. All of the actors do an amazing job of bringing their characters to life in this story, and Metcalf provides a perfect villain, gleefully taking to the streets as though he truly hadn't been out in the world for ages.

Creator Whedon put a lot of thought into the direction of this episode, opening on a fight between Buffy and a vampire and using slow motion to showcase the threat of the predatory vampire versus the capability of bitty Buffy; the vampire's face drops as Buffy pulls a stake from behind her back, and the fight immediately turns, with him taking her more seriously and her suddenly playing with him. Signs of the apocalypse are thrown in throughout the story, with an earthquake, a cat giving birth to a litter of snakes, a lake starting to boil, a boy born with his eyes facing inward, and running water turning to blood, all a display of the danger that the Master poses to the world at large. The threat the Master poses grows greater as Buffy draws nearer, catching an arrow midair before it pierces his heart and displaying hypnotic powers that most vampires don't appear to have. Everything comes together to create a sense that this really is the end of everything, that Buffy will fall and nothing will ever be the same again, but when her eyes shoot open, with Xander and Angel sharing a moment as they realize that they brought her back to life, everything changes once more and hope is restored. The Master walks back into the world, standing on the roof and taking in everything he will soon rule, watching the chaos in the library from the skylight above as the Sarlacc breaks through the floor and reaches up through the Hellmouth. Resisting his hypnotic gaze, Buffy throws the Master to his death, watching as he slowly dissolves away into bones, and while the events surrounding her death and revival haven't sunk in yet, the story closes with Buffy realizing that she defied prophecy and saved the world.

Whedon's script here is really about death and how his characters react in the face of it, opening the story by stating that "the Master shall rise and the Slayer will die." Even Cordelia is humanized as she finds her boyfriend's body in the school, initially thinking that the had forgotten to meet up with her, but being unable to get angry with him because of how genuinely she cared for him, seeing that he instead was watching cartoons and stating that "that's so cu...that's not cute, that's annoying. I'm annoyed." Having cared so much for him she's all the more devastated when she realizes that he had been killed, and in this moment she understands the struggle that Buffy faces everyday in fighting back the hordes of darkness. Buffy's mother mistakes her depression for having not been asked to the prom, revealing that she, too, had gone to prom alone and had met Buffy's father (Dean Butler) there, making Buffy realize how important small moments in life really can be and convincing her that laying her life down so that others can still live might all be worth it, solidified in her meeting with Willow, wherein her last words are a carefully thought out "take care," both as advice and as goodbye. In finding Buffy's corpse, Angel is completely helpless, unable to perform CPR because he doesn't breathe oxygen, and every bad feeling Xander had had toward Buffy melts away, focusing instead on saving his friend and bringing her back to life. The episode climaxes as our characters are attacked in the library from all sides, all of whom are likely to die in this battle until Buffy ekes out a victory, and in their moment of solace, having stared their deaths in the face, they celebrate by going to prom as a group, never to tell the world that they had just saved it.

The Hellmouth is closed and the Master is dead, though the Anointed One remains at large and surely will rise in power now that the Master is out of the picture. The closing shot depicts the original vampire-fighting foursome as having grown into a group of seven, and it should be interesting to see both Ms. Calendar and Cordelia integrate themselves into the group as the next season draws on.

The overview for Season 01 can be read here, and the review for "When She Was Bad" can be read here.


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