“Forever” & “Intervention”
Even though Buffy The Vampire Slayer took a long break after “The Body,” there was no way the show’s writers could press ahead in Episode 17 as though nothing major had happened. And so “Forever” deals with the aftermath of Joyce’s death in two ways: one fairly down-to-Earth, and one more fantastical.
Myself, I preferred the down-to-Earth. The episode opens with more of that post-mortem detail that made “The Body” so special, as Buffy and Dawn pick out a casket for Joyce and deal with questions about what their mom’s wishes would’ve been. Would she have liked the model they chose? Would she have wanted a wake? (Buffy says no on the latter. “She said potlucks are depressing enough as it is.”) They girls try not to be disappointed that their dad hasn’t called yet, and they have a little contest of wills over which of them is allowed to play the “I’m not hungry” card at dinnertime.
After that, the two sisters’ grief-paths diverge. Buffy is comforted by Angel, who arrives in town and says he can stay as long as Buffy needs him to. (To which she replies, “How about forever? Does forever work for you?”) Buffy confides in Angel that the thought that she “probably” couldn’t have saved Joyce has been no comfort, and says that the day that she’s dreading most is the day after the funeral, when there are no more arrangements to be made and she has to deal with an ordinary Joyce-less life. The whole incident has led Buffy to realize that she’s not prepared to be a grown-up.
I loved that Buffy/Angel scene, and all those little details about the lingering pain of a sudden loss, but I have two bones to pick with Joss Whedon and his writers. First off, I’d feel Buffy’s anxiety over lost youth more vividly if Joyce hadn’t been a non-entity for most of Season Four. In the world of the show, Buffy hasn’t needed her mommy in some time. Instead, she’s leaned far more heavily on Giles, and the show has emphasized the push-and-pull of that relationship—and the ways that Buffy hasn’t yet outgrown it—much more strongly. Second off, the introduction of Dawn to the cast really messes up the dynamics of grief here. Buffy has someone to take care of now, and even though she’s new, Buffy (as I understand it) still feels like Dawn’s always been there, which means she’s always had a big sister side to herself. In the current world of the show, Buffy’s had to be a responsible adult for a while.
Speaking of Dawn, she dominates “Forever,” and provides it with its wilder (and in my opinion less successful) storyline. Not content with platitudes like “make a place in your heart for her,” Dawn decides that since she’s surrounded by magic, someone should be able to help her resurrect Joyce. Tara is appalled, but Willow only admonishes that spells sometimes backfire, then secretly levitates a history of witchcraft book off the shelf to point Dawn in the right direction. (Willow seems to be getting cockier and cockier about her power, acting without full consideration of what the endpoint might be of her choices; in a way, nudging the book to Dawn is like teleporting Glory into midair, not knowing where she might land.)
Dawn uses Willow’s book to find out what she needs to complete the resurrection spell, a lot of which is available at The Magic Box. But before she can complete the spell, Spike intercedes, warns her, “You’re into zombie territory,” and then offers to help her by taking her to see special guest demon/mage Joel Grey, who explains to Dawn that she can’t make a resurrection omelet without breaking a few eggs. He points her to a Ghora demon nest, where Spike helps her steal an egg from the cheesy-looking three-headed monster.
That silly, almost random monster-fight is just about the last straw in an episode that often seems overstuffed and underthought. But “Forever” turns it around at the end, when the Buffy storyline and the Dawn storyline intersect. Buffy interrupts Dawn while she’s working the spell, and after a conversation about their respective isolation and pain, they hear a knock at the door. Buffy runs to it, hoping it’ll be their zombie mom—even though she knows that would be horribly wrong on multiple levels—but Dawn tears up a picture of Joyce and aborts the procedure before Buffy can open the door. It’s a poignant moment, because it underlines the idea behind the episode’s title: that death is permanent, and that so, to some extent, is grief.
The other big development in “Forever” is that Ben The Intern gets cornered by one of Glory’s “jawas” and through a poor choice of words accidentally spills that The Key is a “who,” not a “what.” Ben immediately tries to kill the minion, Jinx, but Jinx survives, and runs to tell Glory what he’s learned. This sets up the very exciting and funny “Intervention,” an hour so enjoyable that I can even forgive it for sending Buffy on a vision-quest—usually the kiss of death for a TV episode. (Seriously, what is it with TV writers and vision-quests? Some of the worst non-Kate Losts were vision-quest-related, as was the worst episode of Huge this season. And don’t even get me started on Homer Simpson at the chili cookoff.)
So while Buffy heads out into the desert to talk with The First Slayer about her increasingly hardening heart—and hears from her ancient ancestor the ominous words that, “Love will bring you to your gift. Death is your gift.”—Glory and her be-robed disciples are sniffing around Buffy’s friends, trying to figure out which one of them is the most Key-like. Improbably, they settle on Spike.
That would be enough plot for most TV episodes, but “Intervention” adds another level when it introduces Buffybot, the android version of The Slayer that Spike commissioned from Warren a couple of episodes ago in “I Was Made To Love You” (which, like this episode, was written by the formidable Jane Espenson). The comedic value of Buffybot is incalculable, from her chipper, “Time to slay! Vampires of the world, beware!” to her scanning Anya and asking the surprisingly appropriate question, “How is your money?” But it’s also oddly touching to see Buffybot’s affection for Spike, whether she’s purring, “You’re the big bad!” at him or she’s greeting him with an eager, “It’s Spike! And he’s wearing a coat!”
Then Spike gets kidnapped by Glory, and Buffybot has to team up with actual Buffy and the Scoobies to get Spike back before he spills the secret of The Key. Glory quickly figures out that Spike isn’t The Key because he’s a vampire—and The Key has to be pure—but he defies her torture, calling her the God of “bad home perms” and refusing to tell what he knows. He enrages her to a point where she flings him across the room and accidentally frees him, at which point he leaps onto an elevator and escapes, with maximum bad-assery. (It’s a good episode all around for Spike-lovers, what with his action-adventure moves and his sexy post-coital mussed-up hair.)
When the dust settles, Buffy pretends to be Buffybot so that she can find out what Spike told Glory, if anything. And when she learns that he didn’t give Dawn up, she kisses him and thanks him. So now I’m wondering: Earlier this season, we had the dramatic scene of Spike being barred entry to the Summers home thanks to a Willow spell; how long before we get the dramatic scene of Buffy looking at Spike on her doorstep and saying, “Come in?’
“Disharmony” & “Dead End”
I had a thought while watching this week’s very entertaining (if somewhat trifling) Angel episodes. I think I’ve figured out why I like Lorne so much, beyond his wit and poise. It’s his neutrality that appeals to me, especially as it relates to Angel’s themes. Yes, Lorne wants Angel to be a champion, but only because he knows that Angel is meant to be a champion, and Lorne likes to see people following their proper path. He’s also just as happy to see demons on their proper path, even if that path is, to some eyes, an evil one. Lorne doesn’t judge. He just helps.
Both “Disharmony” and “Dead End” see Angel Investigations trying to do likewise, with mixed results. In “Disharmony,” Angel is struggling to ingratiate himself with his old team again and is having the most trouble with Cordelia, who accepts that she needs Angel to help her accomplish what the Powers ask of her, but still wants him to know that, “You and I, we’re not friends.” Then Cordelia’s old chum Harmony shows up from Sunnydale, and since Cordelia’s in bad need of companionship, she invites Harmony to stay with her, not realizing that her gal-pal’s a vampire now.
I’ve never been a huge Harmony fan, but she’s hilarious in this episode, especially during the Three’s Company-like farce of her early scenes with Cordelia. (The Three’s Company vibe is especially strong during a brief stretch when Cordelia gets confused and thinks Harmony’s a lesbian, and makes the mistake of calling Willow to ask her about it.) Mercedes McNab does some of her best work as Harmony here, shifting smoothly from bubbly to frustrated during her conversations with the clueless Cordelia. The look on her face when Cordelia suggests pizza to slake Harmony’s hunger—or when she’s waiting for Cordelia to officially invite her over—is priceless, and once Cordelia finds out what’s going on and suggests that Harmony crash at her place while she’s at work, McNab is very funny again, saying nervously, “I don’t want to stay here alone with a ghost.”
Wesley and Gunn aren’t inclined to be so accommodating to Harmony, but Angel, still trying to win Cordelia back, suggests that they let her tag along, even if that means adding her to the team temporarily. They get their first chance to put Harmony into play when investigating what they assume is another human-snatching demon cult, but is in fact a vampire pyramid scheme run by a self-help guru named Doug, who teaches his pupils to “turn two… the rest is food.” (Doug is played by the very fine character actor Pat Healy, who’s quite funny as he’s encouraging vampires to “get the most out of your afterlife.”) So Angel sends Harmony in to the organization undercover, and Harmony being Harmony, she ends up joining Doug’s team instead.
Much like “Intervention” is a treat for Spike-lovers, “Disharmony” is a showcase for Cordelia, who goes from moody to needy to badass, as she beats the crap out of Harmony and tells her to get the hell out of Los Angeles. (“It’s nothing personal,” Harmony protests. “I’m evil. We’re still friends, right?”) And in the end, she even forgives Angel and accepts him as a friend again… after he buys her a new wardrobe.
In “Dead End,” Angel Investigations finds another unlikely partner in Wolfram & Hart’s Lindsey, who comes to realize that he can’t stay on the path he’s on. Every morning he wakes up, shaves, puts on his prosthetic hand, gazes forlornly at the guitar he’s no longer able to play, and heads in to work to help evil prevail. Even when W&H springs for a hand transplant, Lindsey’s not happy. Yes he can resume playing his guitar and singing at Caritas, where his midtempo rock ballads are crowd favorites. But his damned hand seems to have a mind of its own, and scrawls “Kill! Kill!” on legal pads all on its own.
Meanwhile, Cordelia has a painful vision of a suburban dad stabbing himself in the eye—staged with maximum creepiness by director James A. Contner, who shoots the scene with handheld cameras—in an incident related to Lindsey’s evil hand. Both the dad and Lindsey got their body parts from W&H’s evil-anatomy mill, so Angel and Lindsey team up to find the people-freezers and break up the operation. And all the while, Angel picks at Lindsey, telling him that “It seems like the more you get, the less you have.” Ultimately, Lindsey agrees. He quits W&H and leaves Los Angeles.
In the wake of the Dark Angel storyline, it seems that the show’s aggressively trying to lighten up this week—aside from Cordelia’s increasingly tortured reaction to her visions—and I can’t complain much about that. “Dead End” is as likable as “Disharmony,” even though it counters the previous episode’s message. “Disharmony” is all about how some people can’t be helped, while “Dead End” says that people can change if you give them a chance. As Lorne would surely say, figuring out who’s who is something we have to do on our own.
-Anya and Xander are having a more intense sex life in the wake of Joyce’s death, because Anya has begun to think that “life could come out of our love and our smooshing.”
-Gotta give it up to Buffy for consistency. Spike and Joyce always had a good rapport, and friendly interactions, so of course he’s going to be moved by her death, and of course he’s going to bring flowers.
-Anya is anxious when Giles lets Dawn help out around the shop. (“She gets to fondle the money?”)
-I probably shouldn’t think about this too hard, but Dawn finds the information she needs and the items she needs to resurrect Joyce awfully easily. I’m not sure even Giles could’ve found what Dawn found in his shop that fast.
-Giles mellows out to Cream’s “Tales Of Brave Ulysses.” Mood music for heroes.
-I enjoyed Willow saying that Tara’s breakfast looked “like little boobs” and Tara saying, “Sassy eggs!” but I worry that their relationship as depicted is more like two junior high best friends than two grown women in love with each other. Then again, maturation and its repercussions has been a constant theme on Buffy, so perhaps the romance will deepen over the next two seasons.
-Giles brought all the necessary supplies for Buffy’s spirit quest: a book, a gourd and a bunch of twigs. When Buffy asks him how he’s going to transfer his guardianship of her to her spirit guide, he looks embarrassed and says that he has jump around and “shake my gourd.” The old ways are sometimes silly ways.
-Pardon me for this indelicacy, but when Spike is ravishing Buffybot, it looks like the scene cuts off just as he’s on his way to perform a sex act that one wouldn’t expect a robot to get much out of, necessarily.
-One of Glory’s minions, running out of honorifics for her, says, “We can do that, oh… thou.”
-According to Anya, the Salem witch trials weren’t all that bad.
-While Dawn’s staying with Willow and Tara, she steals a pair of earrings. I’m going to go ahead and decide that I don’t like this subplot, no matter what becomes of it.
-You can’t brain-suck a vampire. Good to know.
-Buffybot scans Willow and pulls up all the data she has on her, including: “Gay (1999-Present).” To Xander, she says, “You’re my friend. And a carpenter.” Given that Spike told Warren how to program Buffybot, it’s actually kind of sweet that he thought about Buffy’s friends and their distinguishing characteristics, however crudely. (On the other hand Giles is irritated that Spike didn’t program Buffybot to pronounce “Giles” properly.)
-The previously duplicated Xander thinks he knows what’s what when Buffy and Buffybot are standing side-by-side. “I got this. You’re both Buffy!” Not this time, X-man.
-Buffybot, looking at her human counterpart: “We’re very pretty.”
-Buffy, to her confused friends: “You couldn’t tell me apart from a robot?” (But of course they could, in a way. They knew something was off with Buffybot because she was sleeping with Spike. And also because she was taking an active interest in their lives.)
-When Spike suggests that The Key is the host of The Price Is Right, Glory’s minions happily chirp, “We will bring you the limp and beaten body of Bob Barker!”
-Full disclosure: I’m friends with Pat Healy’s brother Jim, a film programmer that I hang out with whenever I see him at festivals. I’ve never met Pat though, and I don’t think I’m biased when I say that he nailed self-help-speak in “Disharmony.” (“You each have it in you to be the best vampire. Not just any vampire, but a master! How? I’ll show you. Through my personally devised, multi-level, exponential flow cooperative. Yeah, I know what some of you are saying. ‘Hey, Doug, speak English, man!’ Okay, don't stake me, guys, all right?”)
-When Angel offers Harmony a glass of pig’s blood, she complains, “That’s gonna go straight to my hips.” She’s happier at Caritas, where Lorne gives her free blood and potato skins.
-Loved Angel’s shifty eyes when he lies to Cordelia and says that he’d never sleep with Darla.
-Lilah’s impressed with her bosses springing for Lindsey’s operation. (“The shaman alone’s a quarter mil.”)
-Lilah explains how W&H wins so many of their cases: “If a jury ever hears this, they’ll be hand-picked or enchanted.”
-The AI gang is dismayed at how Angel sneaks around and skirts the law to find things out, which leads him to grumble, “When I was in charge, no one questioned my methods.”
-As Angel prepares to sing at Caritas, Gunn and Cordelia wonder if there isn’t some other, less painful way for them to get information. (Wesley: “There has to be. Think, damn it!”)
-When Lindsey sings, the demons at Caritas smile and nod along, like the kids in The Brady Bunch used to do when Greg sang. Angel, meanwhile is unimpressed: “What is that… rock, country? Pick a style.”
-Never not funny? Lindsey saying “evil hand” with his wicked deadpan. As in, “You don’t have what it takes… an evil hand.” And, “Stop, evil hand, stop it. I just can’t control my evil hand.”