Wednesday, December 5, 2012

When She Was Bad

Warrior Woman Wednesday

Buffy is found suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from her encounter with the Master, made worse when the Anointed One steals the Master's bones for use in a ritual that will bring him back to life.

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

It would be almost disturbing were Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) not still dealing with the fact that she had only recently been killed at the hands of the Master (Mark Metcalf.) In part she is grateful that she lives, the possibility of a future having opened up for her, but she also had come to accept her fate and had walked into the Master's lair knowing that she would never see her friends or family again. Having chosen to lay down her life, having known that her battle was ended, she instead is forced to continue fight after fight, no longer certain of who or what would kill her, and the sudden uncertainty of her situation must be absolutely terrifying.

At the top of the episode Buffy's mother (Kristine Sutherland) questions her ex-husband (Dean Butler) about whether or not their daughter managed to stay out of trouble during her summer in Los Angeles; Hank responds that she was great, well-behaved, but that she seemed very distant, as though there was no connection between the two of them anymore and the Buffy he remembered was nowhere to be seen. Willow (Alyson Hannigan) later makes a similar remark, stating that "ever since [Buffy] got back [to Sunnydale] she's different," eventually coming to the conclusion that, during their final battle, the Master had come to possess her in some way. Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) assures Buffy's friends that she just hasn't dealt with the fact that she had died and has come to convince herself that she's invulnerable, leading to a dangerous shift in attitude. Her change of state becomes more and more obvious as the hour draws on, with Buffy gleefully torturing a vampire for information by having her repeatedly swallow a metal cross until she talks. Buffy's reaction to those around her is a defense mechanism, working to keep her from letting her guard down and getting killed again, and it's very clear that her insecurities still linger as she fights back tears while destroying the Master's bones. Surrounded by ashes, Buffy finally accepts that her ordeal here is over, able once more to take back her life and relate to her friends as she should have been already, worried now that they will shun her for the way she acted towards them, instead relieved to learn that they welcome her back with open arms.

In the process of humanizing Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter,) she provides counsel, though unwelcome at the time, to Buffy, telling her the hard truth that none of her friends will. What makes this exchange interesting is that Cordelia and Buffy don't like each other, and Cordelia acts here so as to make amends, acknowledging that Buffy had saved her life a number of times and wanting to save Buffy in return. Cordelia tells her to embrace her pain and deal with whatever is bothering her, telling her that she's likely to lose the few friends she has if she continues on on this path, destined to be left with no one, and in her fury that's exactly what Buffy wants; Buffy wants to be left alone to ensure that no one else gets hurt by her actions and also so that she won't lower her guard long enough to be hurt in return. While Buffy and Cordelia are by no means friends, they are, sometimes, the only ones who really can understand where the other is coming from, and that's what makes their animosity so thrilling to watch.

Compared to the events of the last year, Xander's (Nicholas Brendon) claims that this "was the most boring summer ever" are very understandable, and the fact that they've let their guard down after a few months without demonic encounter is also reasonable. What's troublesome is that, when questioned by Buffy about wandering the night without crosses, stakes or weapons of any kind, Xander's best excuse is that they hadn't seen a vampire since Buffy had killed the Master. Considering the vast dangers they had been presented with in the last year, and the fact that Xander had had to revive Buffy from the dead, one would imagine that they would be on guard, either ready to take on the night or staying inside to ensure their own safety. Their nonchalance plays poorly here, and it feels disingenuous given the state of the city they live in.

As the episode opens Xander admits to still being interested in Buffy, but at he does so he starts flirting with Willow to the point where they very nearly kiss. In the absence of Buffy, Xander seems to have realized an attraction for his best friend, but as soon as the Slayer is back in the picture, he becomes far too preoccupied with what she's doing to pay Willow any more attention. Remembering that Xander had professed his feelings for her, and that Willow desperately wished he would feel for her as he does for Buffy, Buffy very out rightly flirts with Xander on the dance floor, despite his feelings for her and Willow's for him, in an effort to make Angel (David Boreanaz) jealous, having told him that she was "moving on, to the living." It's only when Willow and Giles have been kidnapped that Xander's finally able to break the hold Buffy has over him to tell her off, and it's amazing that their group of friends isn't hindered by her actions within this episode, as she's presented to act far more cruelly than Cordelia does, and while it may be the point of the narrative it's also blown slightly too far out of proportion to feel authentic.

Boreanaz and Hannigan have some awkward line delivery in this episode, making their commitment to this world a strain to fully believe, but the rest of the cast is largely good in their roles. Gellar does well in the role of the mean girl and Carpenter's switch to empathetic character is particularly great.

Directed by creator Joss Whedon, there is a lot to like about this episode, but one of the choices that stands out the most is that of dropping the echoing effect in the Anointed One's voice, making him far less of a distraction. The framing of Giles awkwardly flirting with Ms. Calendar (Robia LaMorte) while Principal Snyder (Armin Shimerman) speaks on teenage lust is cleverly done, and Buffy's training montage, wherein she lets her rage get the better of her as she sees flashes of the Master's face is great, eventually resulting in her destroying the training equipment. Buffy continues to hallucinate the Master's presence, imagining Giles attacking her, stating that he had already "killed [Buffy] once, it shouldn't be too difficult to do again," and ripping his face off to reveal the Master's beneath it. In trying to deal with her confusion over her situation, Buffy visits the Master's grave only to find it empty, seeing him in her periphery as she panics. During the final confrontation of the story, Buffy takes full control of the situation and there is a spectacular shot where a vampire is dusted and Buffy appears from behind his ashes that is, perhaps, one of the many highlights of the episode.

Written also by Whedon, this story provides exposition regarding certain events, but doesn't over elaborate in answering questions that might be obvious; Ms. Calendar asks why vampires are still present in Sunnydale with the Hellmouth closed, but Giles states that the Hellmouth is "closed, but not gone," meaning that the mystical energies continue to emanate from within, drawing demonic presence ever toward it. Buffy's PTSD encourages her to push away those who are close to her, being glib with Angel and short with Giles, for fear that they will get her hurt or that she will lead them to danger the way she was. In a way she is blaming her friends for what had happened to her, while simultaneously blaming herself for what might happen to them should she keep them in her life. Perhaps afraid of what a romance with him might mean, Buffy taunts Angel in an effort to hurt him, asking if he had ever thought about whether or not he, as a vampire, could beat her, as the Slayer, in a fight, telling him to "come on, kick [her] ass."

With the events of this story comes what feels to be a conclusion to the romantic attraction that Xander has had for Buffy, though her reformation to a kinder, more gentle Slayer could rekindle that spark later on, though it seems far more likely that he and Willow will start a romance now as Buffy's feelings for Angel continue to grow. Instead of the Master, it is the Anointed One who is set up to be a greater foe for Buffy, and it should be interesting to see what machinations he devises to bring an end to her meddling.

The review for "Some Assembly Required" can be read here.


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