“Through The Looking Glass” & “There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb”
Once again, I’m going to flip the script and do Angel before Buffy, since the latter’s much, much heavier, and should be the anchor in this, the final Buffy/Angel column of the summer. I also watched the episodes in this order, which made the final scene of “There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb” all the more affecting—like one of those movies or novels that jumps ahead in the story for dramatic effect, and then fills in the details later.
But first, lets complete our vacation in Pylea, with two Angel episodes that largely continue the light tone that the series adopted after its late Season Two hiatus, though with a few nods to Angel’s darker themes. On the brighter side, Angel travels with Lorne to the latter’s family hovel where he meets Lorne’s hairy mother, who spits on Lorne and says, “Your father was right. We ate the wrong son!” Angel, on the other hand, is welcomed into the clan because Landok has been hailing Angel’s bravery during Landok’s recent visit to Los Angeles. Angel soaks up the attention, gathering the children around for stories that feature lines like, “I chopped off the evil lawyer-beast’s hand.” (Lorne: “You’re just a regular Hans Christian Tarantino, aren’t you?”) But when the clan gives Angel the honor of beheading the human Fred, whom they’ve captured from the surrounding hills, Angel refuses, and has to flee the village (with the help of Lorne, whose singing makes his people fall to their knees and writhe around, covering their ears).
Meanwhile, Wesley is endeavoring to decipher the holy books that explain what the local priests have in store for Princess Cordelia. He has a breakthrough when he realizes that the books are written in a trionic code, that requires reading between three books in the proper order. He’s less enthused though when he looks at the covers of those books and sees the following animals: a wolf, a ram, and a hart. Certain now that the priests mean Cordelia harm, Wesley and Gunn persuade her to use her princess-ly powers to get to the bottom of her fate. She learns that she’s being prepped to meet The Groosalugg, who’s headed straight to the castle from the Scum Pits, in order to perform The Com-Shuk with Cordelia. (“Do I put out some kind of Com-Shuk-me vibe?” she asks nervously.) So Cordelia grabs all the jewels she can—prompting Gunn to ask, “Do you really think you’ll be able to get your booty through the front door?”—but is unable to escape with her friends before The Goosalugg arrives… and proves to be quite the hunk.
“Through The Looking Glass” is largely about expectations, perceptions, and self-image. Lorne’s mom is mannish. The Groosalugg is more champion than ogre. Cordelia describes the “tiny, skimpy, exploitative” outfit she was made to wear in Hollywood, then acknowledges that what she wears as a princess is just as revealing—though she feels better about it, because of what it represents. Lorne warns Angel not to get too excited by how his clan sees him, because he knows that the way they define people can corrupt them. And when Cordelia defends the honor of The Groosalugg in front of one of the priests, calling him brave, the priest snaps, “He is that only because I say he is.”
But Angel’s the one who has his self-image toyed with the most dramatically. He begins the episode marveling that he can see himself in a mirror for the first time in centuries—and wondering why no one’s ever told him about the way his hair sticks up—but by the end he’s curled into a ball on the floor of Fred’s cave, because when he tries to fight and let his vampire-self out, he turns into a raging, uncontrollable demon. After he changes, he sees his own reflection again, and it freaks him out. He isn’t what he thought he was.
The season finale, “There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb,” is divided between preparation for a big final confrontation and the way that confrontation plays out. The previous episode ends with Cordelia being delivered Lorne’s head on a platter—literally—but unlike the usual “unexpected death of the likable guy” moment in the Whedonverse, Lorne’s beheading doesn’t seal his fate. With his people, so long as the body remains intact, the head can survive, and according to Lorne, “There’s probably a backlog in the mutilation chamber.” So Cordelia tries to figure out how she can sneak down to the chamber to reattach Lorne, without raising suspicion about why she’s toting around his head. (She says she’s going to turn it into “a traitor-planter… for all to see!”) Meanwhile Wesley and Gunn, who were captured by human rebels in the last episode, have proved their mettle to the rebels by fighting alongside him, and are now leading the ragtag band in a sneak-attack on the castle. And while all this is going on, Angel and Fred are holed up in her cave while our hero wrestles with what’s inside of him.
“There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb” continues the “defined by self-image” theme of the previous episode, as Wesley urges Angel to be confident in his ability to retain his humanity (saying, “We know you’re a man with a demon inside, and not the other way ‘round”) and Cordelia urges The Groosalugg to use his skills as a fighter to advance the cause of his people, not the cause of the priests. Cordelia also refuses Com-Shuk with The Grooslugg, not because she’s going to be killed afterward (which she doesn’t know), but because Com-Shuk will pass her visions along to Groo, and though her visions pain her greatly, they are part of who she is—and who she wants to be. All of this leads up to a tense climax, as Angel monsters-up and challenges The Groosalugg to a fight, with each of them thinking of the other as an enemy, before they both break away from their defined roles and work together to effect a revolution.
In the end, all’s well and the gang returns to Los Angeles—a place Lorne likes because “nobody belongs” there—having gained a little more self-knowledge. Angel now knows to trust that his human self will keep his demon self in check. Cordelia knows that being Vision Girl isn’t the worst possible fate. Gunn knows that he’s on a team as bad-ass as his old team (and perhaps moreso, now that Fred has joined them). Lorne has closure on the life he left behind. And Wesley has learned perhaps the most profound lesson about leadership, which is that, “You try not to get anybody killed, you wind up getting everybody killed.” To be heroic requires sacrifice.
Cue the ending, with a sad-looking Willow waiting for the team at their HQ. And cue….
“The Weight Of The World” & “The Gift”
“Where it came from, how it was created… the deepest of mysteries.”
That’s The Knights Of Byzantium’s General Gregor talking about The Key in “Spiral,” though it’s also a fair description of the creative process at its most sublime. It’s all well and good to think through a piece of writing down to every last detail, but sometimes a work of art is more alive if it just flows out spontaneously, “mistakes” and all, almost as if the creator is channeling it, or even living it.
Last week in the comments, “wallflower” made a good point in response to my critique of Buffy’s occasional moments of atonality, writing, “Whedon… lets his characters get into awkward, painful, screechy, annoying, self-pitying positions, which means they take on an unforgettable reality. … He and his team are willing to not be in control of the moment, which is what makes Buffy a work of greatness.” I think that’s right, actually. It doesn’t mean I’m wrong to complain when the awkwardness doesn’t work for me, but as with Lost and The Shield (which wallflower also mentions), Buffy takes big chances, risking the embarrassment of being unable to realize its own ambitions. But if it didn’t take those chances, it wouldn’t be anything special.
The last two episodes of Season Five make a fine, matched case-in-point. “The Weight Of The World,” to my mind, doesn’t really work, because it’s another delaying episode for the most part. Glory has captured Dawn, but she’s hesitant to move forward with the Dawn-destroying ritual because Ben is fighting her. Meanwhile Spike and Xander visit the demon Doc (played by Joel Grey again) and retrieve a box they think will help them defeat Glory. And Willow enters the subconscious of a catatonic Buffy in order to figure out how to revive her. It’s not a bad episode, necessarily, but Glory talking to Dawn about how “being human’s like a costume for girls like you and me” never really resonates, and the constant shifts back and forth between Ben and Glory grow tiresome. And given how close we are to another potential apocalypse, the pacing of “The Weight Of The World” feels way too leisurely, and the storytelling too tap-dance-y.
That said, the episode has some haunting moments in the scenes of Willow exploring Buffy’s mind. She gets to see the implanted memory of Young Buffy meeting Baby Dawn for the first time. (Heartbreaking Young Buffy line: “I could be the one who looks after her sometimes.”) She gets to witness Buffy’s meeting with The First Slayer, who delivered the ominous prophecy, “Death is your gift.” She sees Buffy fantasize about smothering Dawn, and keeps returning to a seemingly benign moment of Buffy shelving a book in The Magic Box. The moments keep repeating on a loop, and then converging so that Willow is surrounded by my multiple Buffys at once, until finally Willow is able to reach Buffy and get an explanation that the moment she keeps seeing in The Magic Box is the moment that Buffy gave up on trying to beat Glory.
Again, this is all ultimately just a way to kill an hour before the finale, but the subconscious-hunt is well-staged, and sets up the far superior ending of Season Five, the Joss Whedon written and directed “The Gift.” Here, everyone’s hesitancy is given more shape and flavor, starting with a nicely crafted opening scene that sees Buffy engaged in a classic vamp-dusting/victim-saving scenario, which ends with the victim saying, “You’re just a girl,” and Buffy replying, “That’s what I keep saying.” There’s just something so wistful about that scene, from Buffy saying “been a long while since I met one who didn’t know me” about the vampire, to her implying on she’s been given a gift that she may be too immature and/or inexperienced to use properly.
Whedon also establishes the stakes well, especially in a series of arguments, asides and planning sessions involving the Scoobies. It’s been determined that there are only a few ways to prevent the end of the world: one would be to kill Ben if Glory ever shifts back into his body again (because while Ben’s an innocent, Xander notes that he’s “not, like, Dawn innocent”); another would be to kill Dawn, either before Glory can begin the ritual that will open the portal to her dimension, or immediately afterward, before the portal can rip apart the fabric of every other reality. Buffy says that she’ll fight anyone who tries to kill Dawn, and Giles, bless him, pushes back, angrily. I’ve always hated on TV shows and movies when people are willing to protect one person even if it means that hundred, thousands, millions, or even everyone in existence (including, hello, that person) will die. I was glad that Giles was on the Wesley side of things: “You try not to get anybody killed, you wind up getting everybody killed.”
The other option is to stall Glory while the ritual’s in progress, in hopes that she won’t be able to complete it before her window of opportunity closes. And here Anya proves invaluable. She suggest that they make use of the glowing orb that Buffy found back at the beginning of the season, and the troll-hammer that was designed to pummel gods. (“Here to help; wanna live,” she chirps.) Anya’s mortality makes this coming apocalypse something she takes personally, such that even a quick boff with Xander can’t put her mind at ease. What does help? Xander proposing, and saying that he’s confident they’ll all be okay. “I think I’m going to live a long and silly life, and I’m not interested in doing that without you around.”
Spike too is one of the MVPs of “The Gift,” especially in the scene where he goes by Buffy’s house to help her armor-up and then sheepishly says, “If you wanna just hand them to me over the threshold….” Finally, she invites him back in, and he confesses that the main reason he cares about her is because, “You treat me like a man.” (Spike is also very funny when Buffy rallies the troops by saying, “Remember, the ritual starts, we all die; and I’ll kill anyone who comes near Dawn.” He shrugs, “Not exactly the St Crispin’s Day speech, was it?” adding, “We band of buggered.”)
There’s a lot of prep in the first half of “The Gift,” but it all pays off in the second half, which offers a true battle royale, complete with a surprise appearance by the Buffybot, a few glimpses of dimension-hopping Whedonesque nightmare-beasties, a creepy final threat from Doc (who says, “Hey kid, wanna see a trick?” before slashing Dawn), a restoration of Tara’s sanity by sucking it back out of Glory’s head, and lots of shots of Buffy beating the crap out of the weakened Glory. And then, the end: Glory turns back to Ben and is killed by a pragmatic, determined Giles, while Dawn’s blood drips into the portal and rips open the hole between dimensions, leading Buffy to sacrifice herself by jumping into the portal and sealing it up. That’s the death that was “her gift.” Spike is shattered, the team is battered, but the world is saved. In fact, on Buffy’s gravestone it reads, “She Saved The World A Lot.”
I know that “The Gift” was designed to be a series-ender in case the show didn’t get picked up another network after The WB let it go, and I have to say, it would’ve been a great way to wrap up the series. As it stands, it’s an apt finish to a weird, daring, beautiful season.
-Cordelia proves easy to please as she sits on her throne, saying, “I’m not really going to complain because… throne.” Later in the same scene, Lorne plops down on the throne and Cody shoos him away.
-Never not funny: Numfar being asked to do the dance of joy, the dance of honor, etc.
-Fred tells Angel that she’s worried about what happened to Cordelia after they met in the barn last episode. When Angel tells Fred that Cordy was made a princess, Fred says, “Huh. When I got here, they… they didn’t do that.”
-Wesley, indignant: “We’re not reconnaissance cows!”
-It’s the little differences: In Pylea, you get five cheers instead of three.
-“Oh, nobody believes in a literal Tarkna nowadays.”
-I’m not above a good piece of slapstick, and Cordelia slinging Lorne’s disembodied head around in the mutilation chamber was, indeed, a good piece of slapstick.
-“Your cow princess is tired of hearing you yack, padre.”
-It would’ve been much more surprising to see Doc and Joyce return in “The Weight Of The World” if their appearances weren’t tipped-off in the opening credits.
-In “The Weight Of The World,” it finally sinks in that Ben and Glory share a body, though not before several scenes of a frustrated Spike trying to explain the situation to all the humans, who are still under Glory’s spell. I found that a little of that shtick went a long way, but it was funny early on, with Spike telling everyone exactly what’s what, and Xander and Anya and Giles responding that Ben and Glory have a connection… “But what kind?”
-Glory shoos away her minions when they try to anoint The Key. Another example of how Buffy characters dismiss The Old Ways.
-Nice direction from Whedon as always on “The Gift,” which features some dynamic camera moves and dramatic push-ins. Great writing too, especially in Spike’s speech about how blood “makes you warm… makes you hard,” and in the conversation between Buffy and Giles about all the apocalypses they’ve faced before, and how Buffy always knew in previous years that the hard choices she was making were the right ones. Hard not to hear the voice of Whedon a little in that chat, wondering if this season makes as much dramatic sense as the ones that came before.
-Xander admires Anya’s ingenuity in drafting plans to beat Glory, saying, “Smart chicks are so hot.” A still bitter Willow interjects, “You couldn’t have figured that out in 10th grade?”
-I’d never noticed this bumper sticker at The Magic Box before: “No Parking In The Back. Violators Will Be Toads.”
-So that’s it for this summer’s Buffy/Angel reviews. As I mentioned earlier, I’m planning to resume in the fall, but on a two-episode-per-week plan rather than four. My target date to resume is Friday, October 15th—noonish as always—and my solution to the what-to-watch-when problem is to go in chronological order by airdate. So on the 15th, I’ll be doing the first two Angel episodes of Season Three, and then on the 22nd I’ll be doing the first two Buffys of Season Six. After that, it’ll be one episode of each, each week, with a few exceptions. I’ll be sure to indicate at the end of each write-up what I’ll be covering the following week. Also, expect frequent weeks off, whenever the holidays or a heavier workload intervenes. By and large though, I’m just going to forge ahead until both shows are done. See you in October!