> BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
> Season Seven, Episode 1: "Lessons"
> Writer: Joss Whedon
> Director: David Solomon
I was actually a bit disappointed by Lessons this time around. I'm now
tempted to call it the weakest of Joss's scripts (especially if you give
him a pass for the early tentative efforts of WTTH/TH). Both the plot and
the character moments are a little on the simple side. But of course to
call this Joss's weakest script is to praise it with faint damnation. As
AOQ says later, it still works out to be a pretty good minor episode.
There are certainly nice moments. But only the great final scene elevates
the episode much beyond filler status.
It is nice to see Buffy making a sincere effort to live up to her speech
to Dawn at the end of S6. Her overprotective urges nearly get the better
of her at first, but we can blame that in part on first-day jitters, and
anyway one successfully resolved crisis is enough to calm her down.
Buffy, Dawn and Xander seem to have formed a truncated but fairly
successful familyesque unit, and Willow is depressed but well on the road
to recovery with help from Giles. On the other hand Anya is unhappy and
Halfrek's help is *not* making it better; while Spike, though he has taken
a big step that might lead to a new man, is currently insane and the
First's plaything. It seems like the degree to which a character
recovered from S6 depends upon the company they keep as much as anything
The Buffy-Spike part still fails to satisfy me, just like it has on pretty
much every viewing. Probably, to lay the groundwork for future
developments, Joss wanted to show us that there is still more to Buffy's
feelings for Spike than simple hatred. You know, despite the rape thing.
But the lack of *any* signs of trauma amidst the confusion and curiosity
just feels wrong to me. It's disappointing, because I'm sure Joss could
have gotten those additional layers into the scene if he had tried.
Beneath You will handle Buffy's reactions much better.
Why does Buffy ask Spike "What did you do?" when she sees his wounds?
Sure, their position shows they could have been self-inflicted, but it's
not clear that they *had* to be self-inflicted, especially not at first
glance. I wonder if it's significant that crazy Spike felt his soul was
located in his heart, rather than, say, the brain.
> (which is itself a pretty good "crescendo of ominous"). But outside
> the teaser and last scene it doesn't set the thematic stage for the
> year as much as some season premieres,
The "It's about power" bookends seem to foreshadow the finale more than
the season as a whole. Power is a recurring theme throughout the season,
but usually combined with or buried in other stories like Buffy's struggle
to be a leader, yet another look at the Slayer trap, various characters'
crises of identity, etc. The final shot when First-as-Buffy repeats
Buffy's words is neat, but I'm not sure that the First really cares about
power, as such -- doesn't it simply want to destroy the world? But maybe
it's thinking like Buffy when it takes on her form.
> Rating: Good
I said Good last time, and I still like Lessons too much to demote it; but
it's fairly low in the Good range.
> Season Seven, Episode 2: "Beneath You"
> Writer: Douglas Petrie
> Director: Nick Marck
> It takes some time to sit around and discuss Spike's opening
> attempt to help while throwing a veneer of changelessness over his
> issues. But beyond that, there's also several hours available to have
> him hump a cross while obliquely referencing a whole bunch of whatever
> from throughout his life and the history of the universe.
This time around, when Buffy followed Spike into the church, I was mildly
appalled to see that we were still only at the 35 minute mark. I really
do not think the long monologue, demented or not, is the best format for
Spike to shine in. (Unless you count the "to the Angel-mobile, away!"
speech from In the Dark. But that was much shorter.) On first viewing I
was mostly just confused by this scene. Nowadays the most interesting
thing about it is picking out the hints to things the first-time viewer
wouldn't understand -- such as the "everybody's in here talking," which
might not just be Spike's memories, but the First's apparitions as well.
Similarly, when Spike starts to lose it in the alley scene, he cries "What
the hell are you screaming about?" The First was probably appearing to
him at that very moment. I don't recall any definite statements about
this point, but I assume that the First has been haunting Spike,
Amends-style, since shortly after he got his soul back. I sometimes
wonder if he would have handled being ensouled much better if it wasn't
for the First's interference.
So where did the phrase "From beneath you, it devours" come from, anyway?
Buffy got it in a Slayer dream, but Spike, Andrew and Jonathan all heard
the same thing (though sometimes in Spanish). Is it the First's
recruiting slogan? Just something that anyone with intuition can feel?
> straightforward monster story serves as an excuse to have the
> characters sit around and argue and discuss their shared history. No
> matter how energetically it doesn't happen, not a whole lot really
> happens, and one has to wonder whether the show's going anywhere at
> this point.
Forgiveable, IMO, since without exception all those scenes really worked
for me. And if I can whack the horse one more time, Buffy's first few
scenes with Spike were a real improvement on those from Lessons.
> overshadowed by a bigger one coming up. I go back and forth on
> whether or not this is a required step on the way to "Selfless,"
> telling Anya that she'll have to take responsibility for (and by
> extension, be) herself before the episode in which she has to learn
The shooting script I've seen includes a bit where Xander warns Anya that
if she keeps it up, Buffy will have to kill her:
Think about the career choice you're
making here, Anya. You're getting
This clearly affects Anya, but she steels herself:
Not my problem.
Well it's gonna be. Forget right and
wrong - what you're doing is demonic.
Uh, yeah. We're not called Vengeance
And Buffy's the Slayer. You're a
Demon. You kill people - how long
you think it's gonna be before
she has to do her job?
Buffy wouldn't slay ... me.
Not if you stop now.
I'm glad that they took this exchange out. It wouldn't have worked with
the final version of Selfless, where Xander is shocked when Buffy decides
to kill Anya.
> Rating: Decent
The showpiece final scene doesn't entirely work for me, but I'm willing to
call it an interesting failure with a nice final image. And the rest of
the episode has a lot to like. Lots of fun intra-Scooby interactions,
especially once Anya's back in the picture. A more satisfying beginning
to the Buffy-Spike story for the season, after something of a misfire in
Lessons. A nice update on Willow. Dawn's threat. And the Glance.
Overall, I'm pretty fond of this episode and give it a highish Good.
> Season Seven, Episode 3: "Same Time, Same Place"
> Writer: Jane Espenson
> Director: James A. Contner
A rare wardrobe note from me: I *hate* Buffy's outfit in the teaser and
the rest of that night. And this is from the guy who liked the
transparent thing over white shirt in Primeval.
> So it's time to re-integrate Willow back into the main cast without
> throwing aside the extreme places things went last season.
Although the episode doesn't dwell on this point, it's pretty significant
that Buffy has only been communicating with Giles, never with Willow
herself. Really, that says as much about the fears in their relationship
as main plot of STSP does. And Xander and Dawn, who are both just as
close to Willow, haven't talked to her or written to her either;
Xander's welcome-back sign has a distinct whiff of making up for lost time
about it. And Giles has apparently not encouraged Willow to reach out to
them. Clearly everyone expects the reunion to be difficult, but -- big
surprise -- no one has actually talked about it, preferring to just
silently worry instead.
> and STSP sells me fully on that reunion. How well Gnarl works depends
> a lot on what sort of mood I'm in (you'll remember I loved him the
> first time around), Paralyzed Willow is consistently one of the hour's
> few weak spots,
Paralysis does take a lot of the fun out of Willow. Though if I have
to watch anyone lie motionless and mumble without moving her jaw, it might
as well be her. Meanwhile, I found Gnarl eating bits of Willow-skin to be
especially revolting this time. So I guess he worked for me.
> that kind of grotesqueness works for me in any mood. There was some
> discussion last time around about whether Willow is being punished by
> an unimaginative and literal-minded sadist of a writing team. I think
> the opposite is true - Gnarl is the doubts whispering in her ear that
> even the people she loves think she should be punished, getting
> skinned and dying alone.
Part of the beloved Buffyverse tradition of villains that prey on the
heroes' insecurities (and related to the tradition of villains who see the
heroes' peronal problems better than they do). They First will do
something similar throughout much of this season, I believe.
> Rating: Excellent
Certainly a Good at the least, but I'm not sure I'd go to Excellent.
> Season Seven, Episode 4: "Help"
> Writer: Rebecca Rand Kirshner
> Director: Rick Rosenthal
Morbid, angsty teens can be really annoying, but Cassie manages to avoid
that problem because she keeps the angsting off-screen. Sure, we hear a
bit of her gloomy poetry recited, and her classmates see her as some
weirdo suicidal poet girl. But most of the time when we actually see her
interacting with other characters she's pretty calm, laid back, friendly,
and has a sense of humor. And when she pours her heart out outside her
dad's house, it's not stereotypical overwrought, hormonal teen angst but
actually pretty mature for a teenage girl about to die. Come to think of
it, that speech is not morbid at all, it's about loving life. (But not in
an annoyingly uplifting way.) So yeah, I like her.
After watching Help again I started to get all proud of myself for
spotting the similarity between Buffy at the end and Angel's "then all
that matters is what we do" philosophy on the other show. Then I reread
the 2006 thread and thought that the idea grew from memories of Scythe's
post and its followups. Oh, well. It's still interesting to look at it
from the AtS point of view. Instead of focusing on Buffy's fate as the
one girl who can save the world, the conclusion of Help focuses on Buffy's
conscious choice to keep trying even in the face of knowing she can't win.
I mean, not just "can't win" in the sense that a particular foe looks
invincible, but in the larger sense that many problems are insoluble and
there can never be a final victory. It's not about victory, it's about
how you choose to live your life. It would fit right in on AtS, but it's
unusual on BtVS. I can only think of a few episodes that take a similar
approach. There's a bit from Gingerbread, mentioned in the 2006 thread:
Angel tells Buffy that they'll never win, but "We do it because there's
things worth fighting for." And then there's The Wish, where Buffy fights
on simply because it's her lot in life, even though she's devoid of hope.
"World is what it is. We fight. We die." That could be seen as kind of a
dark reflection of Angel's approach: still fighting without hope of an
ultimate victory, but rooted in deadened feelings and submission to fate
rather than personal choice. Are there other BtVS episodes with a
similarly AtS-like approach?
> don't want you around and/or doubt it'll do any good. Knowing where
> the year goes, it's almost like it's picking up the parts of the
> "season premiere" slack that were left behind by "Lessons." Like
> "Lessons" it's one of the year's few real high-school based episodes.
With all the Potentials hanging around later in the season, a lot of
school-based episodes might have resulted in teenager overload.
> Almost Season One-like in its focus on one of the other kids in the
> class and her supernatural streak. I've never had much to say about
> it, but Cassie's an engaging personality, Dawn gets an actual role,
> and the gang works on a case together like in younger times (some
> quality Xander/Willow time too).
All good, with the X/W scene in the graveyard, and Willow's solo bit at
Tara's grave, being my favorite.
> and the closing shot is a killer. So I'm pretty
> happy with it, even with Chris's medical record gaffe
Which is still annoying. And I see no reason to doubt my cynical theory
about why it made it into the script.
On the other hand, one small detail that I really liked was Dawn's
reaction to Peter's nasty little distracting trick. She just shrugs it
off, annoyed but not anything close to being crushed. Our little girl is
> and a little
> dragginess (for what it's worth, it dragged less this time, which is
> usually a good sign).
The funeral home teaser and the mourning scene at Buffy's house both
still drag for me, though it's not a major problem. The teaser does have
that good quote, "vampire by vampire, that's the only way I know."
> Rating: Good
Last time I said I could only give Help a Good, though I liked it as much
as an Excellent. But now, for variety's sake, I'll change it to a
> There's one aspect of this exchange from STSP I never noticed before.
> It's surprising, once you know where to look, how much time the show
> is taking to show the way Buffy's friends buy into and feed her
> exclusivist mentality.
The effects go beyond feeding that mentality. They don't just accept her
as being different and having lone-wolfy tendencies, they treat her as
their leader. And they aren't necessarily wrong. Who else can lead them?
And hasn't she led them to victory most of the time so far? But it will
lead to trouble later, as the burden of leadership crushes her and she
starts making mistakes. Buffy's friends build her up too high, then both
sides are hurt when she can't measure up to their ideal.
chrisg [at] gwu.edu
On the Internet, nobody knows I'm a dog.