Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Dark Age

Warrior Woman Wednesday

Ethan Rayne returns, this time with a demon from Giles' past in tow, revealing a darker side to Giles' history that could put the lives of everyone he loves in jeopardy.

Previous: Lie to Me

Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) has presented himself in a very particular manner in regards to his relationship with Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), in part to assert his authority, but also as a means of keeping his distance. Through this story Buffy comes to learn that there's more to Giles than meets the eye, that he's much more like her than he had ever let on, and their bond is strengthened through the knowledge that he, too, has been known to make mistakes.

At the top of the episode Buffy and Xander (Nicholas Brendon) comment that Giles must always have been incredibly straight-laced, even as a student, and though Willow (Alyson Hannigan) argues that there likely was some wildness in his past, her friends are simply unable to imagine it. This story is, in part, an exploration of Buffy's relationship with her Watcher, a partnership that should know no boundaries in the fight against evil, but when Buffy demands answers from her mentor he refuses, stating that it's not her battle and that she should stay out of it. In order to protect him from himself, Buffy recruits her friends' help in researching what's happening around them, taking charge of the situation and eventually earning Giles' respect because of it. He admits that he had dropped out of college, "falling in with the worst crowd that would have [him]," and it slowly becomes evident that his work as the straight-edged Watcher is part of his attempt to repent for the sins of his youth. Realizing that he, too, makes mistakes form time to time, Buffy notes that "after all this time, [they] finally find out that [they] really do have something in common," and though their lives have been laced with much tragedy, they take comfort in the fact that they have one another with whom to work.

Giles' relationship with Jenny (Robia LaMorte) is very well crafted, progressing incredibly well and believably from an awkward beginning to a genuine affection. While Giles still calls her 'Ms. Calendar' through habit, and stutters as he tries to correct himself, she puts him at ease with her ability to tease him relentlessly about his habits, claiming to have dog-eared and underlined his book simply to watch him squirm. Their chemistry is incredible, and everything about how they interact with one another seems absolutely genuine. Giles falls completely apart at the thought that he may have lead Jenny to her death, losing the ability to function and help Buffy in her fight, and in the end she distances herself from him because of it. Not everything is forgiven at the close of this story, nor should it be, but it's clear that the two of them still have strong feelings for one another and it's disheartening to see them torn apart in this way.

Many of the characters through this narrative have the mark of Eyghon tattooed somewhere on their body, and part of Ethan's (Robin Sachs) plan is to tattoo Buffy, after which he will burn the mark off of his own flesh. After being tattooed, Eyghon, in possession of Jenny's body, makes a beeline for Buffy, completely ignoring Ethan, though earlier, before she had been tattooed, Eyghon attacked Buffy despite Ethan's presence, and it's questionable what the difference in situations was. If it's really as simple as removing the tattoo in order to avoid death, then Giles and Ethan should have been clever enough to have had it removed twenty years earlier, and this fact cheapens the danger inherent in their situation. There's no reason for any of them to have been involved here anymore, because the solution is incredibly simple, and to even have this as an option is a glaring flaw in the writing.

Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) is the one to tell Buffy that she had seen Giles speaking with the police regarding a homicide, but beyond that there's really nothing to tie her to this story. It feels very much like she was shoehorned into the story in an effort to integrate her into the group, but it simply doesn't mesh as well as the writers would like. Her motivation is questionable, as she spends most of her time insulting Buffy and her friends, and while it's understandable that she's grateful for all the times they've saved her life, it's unlikely, given her attitude, that she would let herself be seen among them.

Sachs manages to convey a certain danger while remaining incredibly fun and funny, and the delivery of his lines is very good throughout. LaMorte's turn as Eyghon, attempting to seduce Giles and later turning against all of her allies, is done very well, adding much of the drama to the narrative. Hannigan's delivery of Willow's speech is something of a mixed bag, and while certain parts are very well-delivered, other portions seem incredibly awkward and don't translate off the page well.

There are a few moments in director Bruce Seth Green's story that are poorly handled, including the effect used as the bodies melt away, which looks like drain cleaner, and Cordelia's comment that Xander needs a year's supply of acne cream despite his perfectly clear skin, which serves only to highlight how miscast Brendon is as an outcast. The good of the episode lies in the investigation of Giles' humanity, from his fever dreams and inability to compose himself when flustered, to his reluctance to admit to his past, and his need to repent for it. Ethan stalking Buffy through the stacks of the library is incredibly creepy and effective, displaying how dangerous Ethan can be in any given situation.

Written by Dean Batali and Rob Des Hotel, this episode has a lot of small details that add up to make a really interesting story, creating a very believable transformation to the relationship between Slayer and Watcher, as he begins by complaining about the music she listens to while performing calisthenics, to the bond that the two come to share in the end as they realize that they're more alike than either is willing to admit. Buffy is made to stake out the hospital, waiting on a delivery of blood, and it's nice to see that this is addressed, given that it's a likely target for vampire attacks. It also answers the question of where Angel (David Boreanaz) gets his blood from, noting that "it's delivery day, everybody knows that," indicating that there's likely a number of sources in Sunnydale that operate to demons.

Ethan is currently out of the picture, though not likely for long, and his return should prove interesting now that he's risked the lives of both women in his life (Jenny and Buffy, respectively). The relationship between Giles and Jenny here comes to a bit of a stall, but it's only a matter of time before things return to normal and their awkwardness is resolved.

Next: What's My Line (Part One)


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