“No Place Like Home” & “Family”
“I didn’t ask for this.”
That’s Buffy, talking to a dying monk towards the end of “No Place Like Home,” after she learns that the annoying brat she thought was her kid sister is in fact a key to a portal that Buffy has been drafted—against her will—to keep shut. It’s also a line that Buffy’s been saying in some variation since Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s first episode. Lately, she’s become accustomed to the burden of being The Slayer, and has even started to enjoy it. But now there’s this: an interloper in her family, at the worst possible time, with her mom feeling ill.
“No Place Like Home” is an unusual Buffy episode, in that it’s more a fragment of a longer arc than a complete story in and of itself. Yet it’s a remarkably affecting episode, thanks to assured pacing and a couple of smartly handled reveals. It all starts with the opening sequence, which has monks scurrying around a torch-lit monastery carrying scrolls, in what looks like a scene from ancient times until a caption informs us that this all happened “two months ago.” That’s a funny little joke, but it also reinforces the idea that The Old Evil never goes away; the fight keeps getting renewed in Sunnydale. (See also: “Buffy Vs. Dracula,” which may be more relevant that I first assumed.)
Meanwhile, back in Sunnydale, Buffy is staking some New Evil outside an abandoned factory when she’s shooed away by a night watchmen, who assumes she’s there for one of them newfangled raves all the kids are into. Which makes sense, because when the guard first sidles up to Buffy he finds some kind of glowy ball at her feet. Buffy takes the orb to Giles, who says that it “appears to be paranormal in origin.” His logic? “Well, it’s so shiny.”
While Giles researches the orb—which he later learns is The Dagon Sphere, designed “to repel that which cannot be named”—Buffy tries to figure out what’s been causing her mother to feel so poorly lately. Since the doctors have found nothing, and since Buffy does live in a world plagued by The Old Evil, she assumes that her mother must be cursed. Anya suggests Buffy cast a spell that allows her to see curses, which Buffy does, and in one of those “smartly handled reveals” I mentioned above, she learns that Joyce specifically is not cursed, but that their entire family is—cursed by the presence of Dawn, who flickers and fades from the photos placed around the house. So Buffy, already jealous of all the special time that Dawn gets to spend with Joyce, slams the little whosit against the wall and demands, “Stay away from my mother!”
As I said, “No Place Like Home” is one of the rare Buffys in which nothing’s really resolved by the end, unless you count The Secret Of Dawn as a resolution (or Anya finding gainful employment… more on that later). The episode does however introduce one heck of a new villain in a mentally imbalanced, glamorously dressed demon named Glory, who’s searching for “The Key” that the monks at the start of the episode are scrambling to protect. Glory has one of those monks on lockdown in the same factory Buffy patrolled earlier in the episode, and has a security guard bound up too. While he’s pumping them for information, she goes from adorably coquettish to completely nutzoid in a blink of an eye. (A transition marked by some nifty jump cuts while she rants insensibly.) Glory later has a brief tussle with Buffy, which is aborted when Buffy flees with the newly freed monk and Glory breaks a heel—which prompts her to stomp her feet until the building crumbles around her. Like Buffy, she complains that she’s being called to do a job she doesn’t really want to do. “The whole mortal coil… you know, it’s disgusting.”
Then the monk fills Buffy in on Dawn being The Key, and explains that his organization cast a spell to retroactively insert memories of the girl into everyone’s lives. And while Buffy’s appalled, she can’t help but be moved when the monk explains that Dawn is, ultimately, human, and doesn’t know she’s not human. The longer-than-usual wind-down from that moment to the closing credits is another nice touch in “No Place Like Home,” in that it gives Buffy and the audience a chance to absorb the circumstances here. Here are three women—Buffy, Dawn, and Glory—all given responsibilities they either don’t want, don’t like, or don’t know about. Harsh.
I have less to say about “Family,” though it’s mostly a pretty great episode too. Joss Whedon wrote and directed “Family,” and devotes it to another tagalong character who needs more definition at this point in the season: Willow’s gal-pal Tara. Whedon gives Tara her due in several ways, both overt (by having Tara start the episode by telling Willow a bedtime story about “the kitty nobody wanted”) and more sly (by having Xander and Buffy speak for the fans when openly discussing how they think Tara is “nice” but don’t know much about her). Simultaneously, Whedon keeps the Glory plot alive by having the demon-babe recruit a mob of fork-tongued clown-things called The Lei-Ach to go after The Slayer. (When Glory finds out that she fought a slayer herself, she’s appalled. “How unbelievably common,” she groans.)
This all ties together neatly when The Lei-Ach show up to kill Buffy and neither she nor any of the other Scoobies can see them, thanks to Tara. Why? Because her relatives are in town (including a brother played by Kevin Rankin and a cousin played by Amy Adams!) and are planning to bring her back home before she turns into a demon, as all the women in her clan do when they turn 20. So Tara casts a spell to blind her friends to demons, not considering about how this will impede their ability to do their demon-killing job.
“Family” is smartly plotted, though its big twist—that Tara has been lied to all her life about her imminent demonhood, as part of a plot to maintain the family patriarchy—is a little silly. Still, the result of that reveal is very moving, as Buffy and her pals stand beside Tara and tell her father that he’ll have to go through them to get her. (Well, except for Spike, who’d shown up at the last minute to whomp on The Lei-Ach. “I don’t care what happens,” he insists.) And then comes the lovely capper, as Willow and Tara dance at the latter’s big birthday bash, and levitate as they twirl about the floor. At least two ladies in the Buffyverse are getting what they asked for.
“Dear Boy” & “Guise Will Be Guise”
There are some commonalities between these two Angels and this week’s two Buffys, in that Each features an episode with a single writer-director credit, and each features an episode that advances the master-plot without having much of a plot of its own. In the case of Angel though, the episodes are one and the same: “Dear Boy,” written and directed by David Greenwalt, and all about the centuries old dysfunctional relationship between Angel and his sire, Darla.
“Dear Boy” ranges from the heyday of the Angel/Darla pairing in olden times (when Angel took an interest in a mad aristocrat named Drusilla) to now, when the resurrected, newly human Darla is scheming to turn Angel evil again. In addition to infiltrating his dreams, she’s begun showing up in public around Angel, driving him mad with confusion. It all comes to a head when Angel’s on a job—trailing a cheating wife whose husband thinks she’s been abducted by aliens—and he confronts Darla at the hotel he’s staking out. Darla claims to be a married woman named DeEtta Kramer, and tells the police that she’s being stalked by Angel. When he shows up at the house of “DeEtta,” she has the actor playing her husband killed, and frames Angel for the crime. But before the cops show up—led by Angel’s old ally-turned-nemesis Kate—Angel perches up in a tree and reaches down to snatch Darla.
As with this week’s Buffys, the plotting and presentation of “Dear Boy” are especially fine, from the dark romantic pull of the Angel/Darla story through the ages, to the way the story gradually reveals that she’s always presumed too much about her lover. She was annoyed by his decision to sire Drusilla centuries ago, and in modern times she’s rather cocky about how easily she can turn him to the dark side. I loved the long conversation they have about what it means to have a soul, and the way Greenwalt intercuts it with Kate’s raid on Angel Investigations (and Wesley picking holes in her case). And I loved the setting of the Angel/Darla conversation: an underground reservoir where Angel Investigations disrupts a ritual and fells a demon at the start of the episode, after descending an impossibly steep set of stairs. Very evocative of the darkness that runs beneath.
As for “Guise Will Be Guise,” it’s another well-written, well-constructed episode, in standalone mode. The theme: identity crises, which simultaneously strike Angel and Wesley, albeit from different fronts. Angel, feeling “rocky” in the wake of the whole Darla business, consults with Lorne at Caritas, who tells him, “You’re rocky, Rocky II, and half of the one with Mr. T.” Lorne suggests that Angel go see a backwoods swami named T’ish Magev, but what Angel doesn’t know is that the real Magev is dead, and the Fake Magev who grills him about his self-confidence problems is a goon hired to keep Angel out of Los Angeles for the weekend.
The reason? There’s a corporate struggle on between wizarding clans. One’s trying to kidnap Virginia Bryce, the socialite daughter of Magnus Bryce (maybe it’s wish-granting magnate Paul Lanier, or maybe it’s “Briggs over at Consolidated Curses”), so Magnus sends another goon to Angel Investigations to hire the boss as a bodyguard. The goon threatens to shoot Cordelia if she doesn’t locate Angel right away, so Wesley throws on Angel’s duster and pretends to be a tortured, badass vampire. And as he and Virginia go shopping at exclusive all-night wizard boutiques and ward off her would-be kidnappers, she starts to fall for Wesley, though she knows better than to sleep with him because of his curse. “Ah yes… the curse,” Wesley says dejectedly… before sleeping with her anyway.
“Guise Will Be Guise” is a treat for Wesley fans (like myself), because of the way it transforms from him the buffoon at the start of the episode—accident-prone and itchy-legged—to a romantic hero, who swoops in to save his lady fair. Some great comic business along the way, too: Wesley saying, “Yes, all right, but I shan’t be cooperative,” to Magnus’ goon; Wesley forgetting that he has to be invited into a house if he’s really a vampire; Wesley taking a sip of blood and then pouring the rest into a nearby vase; Wesley being found out by Magnus and tossed into a sunbeam, yelping, “No, not the sun! For I am a vampire!”
I wasn’t wild about the standard-issue “boy loses girl” turn, as Virginia finds out Wesley’s a fraud and pulls out the hoary old “You lied to me!”/“I never want to see you again!” bit. But the episode takes a good turn after that, once it’s revealed that Magnus was trying to keep the kidnappers at bay because he’s planning to sacrifice his daughter in the name of increased power. Only the plan doesn’t work because Angel shows back up, Wesley plays rescuer, and—oh by the way—Virginia’s not a virgin anyway. Angel even gets a little of his mojo back, perhaps spurred by Magnus calling him “a eunuch.” Angel, deeply hurt, mutters, “I’m not a eunuch… I mean, the curse isn’t even all that clear.”
-I just noticed that the fifth season Buffy DVDs have a keyhole theme. And now I know why.
-The “No Place Like Home” subplot about Giles opening The Magic Box for business is like a sharp little sitcom buried within a dramatic episode. (Though few sitcoms would attempt a piece of silent comedy as sublime as Buffy walking into the shop and staring blankly at Giles in his wizard cap and cloak until he sheepishly takes them off.) The subplot starts with Giles trying to be optimistic about the shop’s prospects despite the early lack of business—“Think about it. Sunnydale. Monsters. Supply and demand.”—and ends with Giles so overwhelmed by customers that it’s getting in the way of his research. Enter Anya, who knows magic—she offers to get Giles a price break on conjuring powder by hooking him up direct with the troll that sheds it—and needs a job. Classic sitcom premise there, including Anya having to learn how to be polite to the patrons. (“But I have their money,” she explains. “Who cares what kind of day they have?”)
-Hey, it’s 2000! Dawn gripes about Buffy’s kitchen fussiness, saying, “Who died and made you the Iron Chef?”
-A telling line from Willow, who says of Dawn, “I have all this involuntary empathy because she’s a big spaz.” I’ve no doubt that Willow would be inclined to feel compassionate towards Dawn anyway, but given the monks’ intervention, the use of the word “involuntary” is interesting.
-Hey, another Ben The Intern sighting! After letting Dawn play with his stethoscope (and discover Riley’s defect) in “Out Of My Mind,” he sees Buffy again at the hospital, and admires her strength when she helps him restrain a patient. (“Radioactive spider bite?” he asks.)
-Okay, I have to ask this: Why doesn’t Willow help Buffy with the whole “spell to see curses” thing? Isn’t that, like, her raison d’etre?
-Having realized at the end of “Out Of My Mind” that he’s attracted to Buffy, Spike is now hanging around the house, lovelorn. When she catches him, he protests too much. “I never really liked you anyway, and you have stupid hair!”
-Yes, I know Glory doesn’t have a name yet in these episodes, but the sources I refer to when doing these write-ups call her Glory, so I’m going with that. I hope the name’s not a spoiler.
-“You know that thing with worms, where if you rip one in half, you get two worms? Think that’ll work with you?”
- At the start of “Family,” Buffy’s moving out of her UC-Sunnydale dorm, which at least gives us a glimpse at the campus again, which has otherwise been more or less AWOL this season. During the move, Xander notes that Buffy’s room had two entrances, which provided “lots of opportunity for bawdy French farce.”
-When Giles suggests that Dawn be sent to live with Buffy’s father, she says, “When he bailed on us, I remember Dawn cried for a week. Except she didn’t. She was never there.” Bonus points to Whedon for continuing to emphasize how emotionally complicated the whole Dawn story is.
-The plague of madness that infected the nightwatchman in “No Place Like Home” pops back up in “Family,” which gives another chance to check back in with Ben The Intern (who’s also almost attacked by one of those forked-tongue clown-things, before Glory saves him). Clearly, Whedon has plans for BTI. Is he a possible love interest for Buffy between Riley and the other person whom I already know will be a love interest eventually? (No, don’t tell me. I like not knowing.)
-A rather raunchy joke in “Family” as Spike fantasizes about fighting Buffy while he has sex with Harmony. She asks him to come and get her, and he sneers, “Oh, I’m coming. I’m coming right now!” (And whaddaya know….)
-A brief glimpse of The Bronze at the end of “Family!” Another set that’s been underused of late. And a nice sight gag when the tippling Buffy and her pals freeze after Dawn says, “Only losers drink alcohol.”
-After Angel and the gang break up the underground ritual at the start of “Dear Boy,” there’s a nice shot of them back above-ground, while all the cult-members file out forlornly, left with no one to worship.
-Also a very cool Hitchcockian score in “Dear Boy,” as befits an episode with voyeurism and obsessive romance.
-A bleary Angel sniffs Cordelia’s hair. (“Personal bubble!” she exclaims.)
-Angel, trying to explain that he saw Darla out in the street: “I’m not crazy! I saw her… right between the clowns and the talking hot dog.”
-Poor “Stephen Kramer” gets a couple of good lines off before he gets dispatched to The Dead Actors’ Home. First, he asks “DeEtta” whether he’d still be pulling a chair out for her if they were really married, then later, while eating, he enthuses, “This linguine smells so true!”
-After Angel sings a halting, off-key version of “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” at Caritas, he leaves the stage muttering, “I’m very sorry.”
-At the start of “Guise Will Be Guise,” Angel and Gunn are sneaking into the offices of Wolfram & Hart, though Gunn is dismayed when he hears that Angel’s plan for ducking the vampire detectors involves “getting to the offices before they stop me.” (Gunn: “Walking real quick was the plan?”)
-Piling on Wesley: A would-be client looks him over and asks, “You got any special abilities?” Then a few minutes later, Cordelia asks, “Do you have any clothes a man would wear?”
-Gunn, bringing back what I’m hoping remains one of Season Two’s main themes: “How’d I live in L.A all my life and not notice weird-ass stuff was going on?”
-Does Lorne know that T’ish Magev is a fake? Is he in on the plot to get Angel out of the way?
-Cordy, imitating Angel: “I can’t do anything fun tonight, I have to count my past sins and alphabetize them.”
-Magnus Brice’s hired muscle is played by Saul Stein, an actor I always identify with Nick Gomez’s terrific early films Laws Of Gravity and New Jersey Drive. Back then, I pegged him for stardom, but instead he’s just carved out a steady career as a bit player. And Gomez, who once looked like The Next Great American Director, has become a TV director primarily—though he does tend to work on good shows.
-Two funny exchanges:
Fake Magev: “You’re ambivalent.”
Angel: “I am and I’m not.”
Angel: “Were you in Virginia?”
Wesley: “That’s beside the point.”