Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Sprung

This will be my last post here. I've been on and off this blog for a while and am moving on to a larger project (with more structure). I'm going to be editing a magazine blog called The Chaotic Neutral. we have a small staff already churning out prose and I'm really excited for what we may accomplish over there. I hope you'll follow me over. We'll have reviews, book discussions, fiction, pop-culture commentary.

The site will be launching at the beginning of June so subscribe and visit.


Updates to roll out on Facebook and Twitter.
     


There should be a way to capture that smell when Spring first gains traction in the weather. There are warm days and there are cool days but it's palpable when Spring takes hold. There's that aforementioned smell that isn't quite cut grass and more complex than the crass perfume of flowers. It's a compound that's much more entangled and knotted, much more intricate. The scent is everything in Spring, from pollen to animals, but it's much more. Its gestalt is something unique, belonging not to the presence of particular scents but to the process of the season bringing them about. The smell of a newborn baby does nothing to me but the smell of a newly arrived season takes me over. Perhaps it's more akin to a wine, a scent that is living things simply being alive. The chemicals sometimes competing, sometimes bonding, always layering and entwining. This vintage only lasts moments in the context of the year. There are only a handful of days before it settles into something pleasant but simpler. Common.

And there's the sound. In nature there are many different types of sound. There's the sudden silence that follows as insects and birds become alerted to a presence, a quiet that brings disquiet. There's the claustrophobic boxing of noise that comes along with low clouds a dense fog. And then there's Spring's Silence, when the sounds of wind, traffic, animals, all periodically fade away. Like a vacuum it is a pulling silence; it reaches into you and pulls you out of yourself to fill the space around you. The insistence of the Silence of Spring brings with it an urgency. It is an aggressive peace that forces its tone on those who hear it. It's like a drug that way, imposing itself on you and making its desire your own. Zen is too balanced a word for this silence and calm. Spring Silence runs its fingers down the back of your neck, eliciting a shudder of nostalgia - but rather than making you long for the past, you crave to make the current moment linger. Have you ever tried to force a moment to stay? It's a losing battle. That act of turning the moment into a battle is what makes it lost.

All of this comes at a cost. Fall is by far my favorite season. Fall wields a brush and palette and comes prepared for war. Fall is the beauty in decomposition. Spring is the transition of life and therefore inherently mawkish. I am drawn into Spring despite myself, never truly embracing it until made to. As children Summer is the default season of choice, more due to living in the perpetually immature machine that is school. Schedules are doled out, freedoms strictly boxed in. Summer is the time of release. Even if you prefer the cold and hate the heat, the Summer is still your season of freedom. But once free of these childhood shackles, you may explore other seasons. Summer no longer has to be the season of freedom. And Summer does not make the best lover. Summer has a cruel streak, a meanness to its love. Summer will claw at you while smiling, making you grimace and sweat. Summer will scratch you, both with a wicked humor and with rage. Often you cannot tell which is which until the burns and exhaustion arrive the following day. Summer sounds wonderful as an idea but can be too demanding a season. Spring's forceful hand is the attitudinal change of a high, not Summer's crash of living with the consequences. Spring makes you enjoy thin, yet exuberant music outside of your comfort zone. Summer is enduring it with the awareness of what that music is and isn't. Where Fall allows you to pull the crunch and colors of the world into you, Spring cuts you open and hangs your soul on trees and across fields. Fall lets you eat the world, Spring is when the world reclaims your being and makes a feast of you instead.

So today was that day of Spring for me. While Spring may have shown its hand yesterday there is something to the idea that it doesn't exist until it is experienced. Not in the holistic, faux-quantum manner of those that sell woo and bank on you understanding the words they sell even less than they do, but in the same way that it is a beautiful day somewhere but if you're not in that climate then it is not your day. Sometimes that climate is time zones away. Sometimes it is on the other side of a window. But what is clear is whether that climate is here or there. Today that weather was here for me and I went outside and walked through it. Spring spread its fingers like a spider's web across my path. I saw it and approached. I walked through those fingers and they dug into my body. Summer's fingers have nails but Spring's become ephemeral upon penetration. Those fingers raked through me and a different person came back.



Monday, April 13, 2015

It Follows review

It Follows is a strange and dense horror film. While I wouldn’t necessarily call it scary I would say that it’s terrifying. The plot is this: Jay and Hugh are dating and end up sleeping together. Jay is then knocked out by Hugh and when she comes to is tied to a chair where she’s told the concept of the movie. That is there is a creature. It knows where you are at all times and can look like anyone. It is always walking toward you and when it gets to you it will kill you. You can make it target someone else by sleeping with them but if it kills them before they pass it on it will go back to the previous target. Oh, and it’s invisible (but corporeal) to anyone who has not been a target. So on the surface you get a sexually transmitted slasher film. But there’s so much more to it.

Right away there is a reason given for a very common horror trope: that a killer is coming after teenagers and the virgin will be the one to survive. That alone is nice but there’s a lot more genre deconstruction happening in this film. On a surface level the production is a spot on homage to 70s and 80s slasher movies. The soundtrack is a nearly painful orchestration of simple synth music. The killer is often seen slowly plodding through the suburbs en route to its current victim. If you’re getting a strong Halloween vibe you would not be wrong. But I hate Halloween and really respect this movie.

That is because I find early slasher films exercises in form with nothing to offer in terms of content. They're more explorations on how to make movies in a different way than good films unto themselves. What It Follows does is picks up the construction of Halloween and the like and spends its creativity on deconstruction and metaphor. Like Babadook and depression, It Follows is an exploration of the emotional impact of rape. While Jay does consent to sex with Hugh (and tells the police and therefore the audience this explicitly in an interview) the metaphor still holds. While she consented to sex she didn’t consent to the entire situation that Hugh was forcing on her. She never agreed to be stalked by a killer, have her privacy taken away, and be constantly paranoid about how people she recognizes may hurt her at any moment. The sexual act that Hugh does to her is clearly something done to turn her into a victim.

As the movie goes on the It of the title appears in a number of guises and is often nude. It’s strange how infrequently nudity is used as non-titillating in horror films. Even in another horror deconstruction, Cabin in the Woods, the nudity is sexy and done as a nod to the juxtaposition of sex and gore. In It Follows the nudity itself is disquieting. The creature is not often a teen so the naked body is usually that of someone in their 40s. It’s also not the main victim. Jay isn’t topless during her sex scene so the sex act and the nudity are actually separated. Often times the nudity is used to make It seem more out of place and surreal. Sex is also used for similar purposes to make the viewer uncomfortable. We are aware that whomever she sleeps with will most likely die and therefore sex becomes a bargaining chip for time to think rather than an expression of affection or even pleasure. There’s a particularly disturbing scene in which Jay is on the run and desperate for time and distance from the creature. She comes out of some woods to a beach and sees three men on a boat just off shore. She strips down to her underwear and begins to swim out. The next shot is of her driving home, soaking wet. It was at that moment I felt what the movie had accomplished. It made me cringe at the thought of sex. What would normally be the sexist scene in a film, a bunch of attractive teenagers or 20-somethings having sex at the beach, became the point of anxiety and disgust. Instead of seeing sex and then being made to cringe at the slaughter ensuing after. It Follows made me cringe at the sex itself. Suddenly I realized how much in the head of Jay I was.

And that was incredible. At no point in Halloween have I ever felt like Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis). I doubt people feel like the main girl at most horror movies. People roll their eyes as the characters ignore red flags, people shout at the screen for the characters not to do things and how dumb they are. But in It Follows I was cringing and trying to look away during sex. I felt anxiety over how Jay was going to cope with the aftermath of her night with Hugh. I felt pissed off when Jay’s friend Paul keeps mooning over her even as she’s trying to put herself back together each day after not being able to sleep or trust people. That’s the amazing thing that It Follows did to me and why I love it as a movie. It takes a throwback slasher film, breaks it down into its constituent pieces, and puts it together with enough logic to make the pieces fit. But then it keeps going. It slows the killer and makes the threat long lasting to give the emotions more impact on the characters. It’s not about finally believing towards the end and then running for your life. It’s knowing the truth early on and dealing with convincing your friends why you’re different and why you can’t just go back to the way things were. It’s having the titular It always escapable but always there. Death is avoidable but inescapable. It looms by taking its time.

And it’s cruel. When first showing Jay the creature, now her creature, he says that it’s slow but not dumb. At first it seems to be dumb. It approaches in broad daylight from in front. It doesn’t hide and it doesn’t sneak. But it doesn’t have to. Over the course of the movie other behaviors emerge. Rather than always appearing as family members in order to walk right up it reserves these visages for moments when it seems sure that this will be a final kill. It scares the victim with strangers but in an act that I can only interpret as cruelty it aims to hurt you the most while wearing the face of people you trust. And its method of murder makes this all the more horrific when it’s finally revealed. So not only is the killing blow as awful as possible but in the interim it makes the victim wary of even the most well-meaning of friends and family.

The movie ends with Jay and Paul sharing the burden of the creature. Both can now see it and both can watch out for the other. But both also know that it is always coming, right behind them and in no rush to end their torment. They just have to find ways to deal with life while evading it.

On a scale of -5 to 5 I rate It Follows a 4.5

Monday, February 17, 2014

My Zombie Has Two Genres

During Superb Owl Sunday I was talking to someone about the Walking Dead, because I'm not going to waste my time dealing with sports. He was criticizing it for a number of reasons. Some of it was arguable on a purely on a stylistic level, he claimed that he thought a zombie series that never solved the problem of zombies was too bleak and unrelenting. While I think that's off the mark I can understand where that feeling comes from. Content wise I think the show is on the inspiring side but the tone is bleak.

His other complaint is what threw me, though. He said that for him it failed as a horror show. Here's the rundown:
  • It has zombies and therefore is a horror show
  • He is not afraid of zombies and therefore doesn't find the show frightening
  • It is a horror show that is not scary and therefore fails as entertainment
The impasse that we became stuck on was that he was seeing it only through the lens of the horror genre. While I suppose it wouldn't be unfair to call it a horror show I never thought of it that way. The tropes in it don't follow the horror genre. Generally the point of horror is to elicit emotional negative reactions from the audience. When done in a more refined manner we tend to think of things as classic thrillers (these bring out the reaction of tension, stress, anxiety), and as they become more graphic they are thought of more as horror (shock, disgust, cringing at empathetic pain). American Horror Story, while obsessed with delivering disturbingly saccharine endings, does aim to elicit disgust during the early part of their seasons. But The Walking Dead doesn't really go for the horror side of things. Sure, the thriller emotions are there, but the use of zombies and gore is actually in service to world building and not emotional manipulation. Like all good zombie movies it leaves that to the humans to do.

Am I arguing that Walking Dead isn't horror at all? I would. The show (and the comic, for that matter) doesn't try to evoke the negative emotional reactions that horror as a genre aims to. Instead it employs massive world building and a wide cast of characters to analyze human complexity and create parallels between this abstracted alternate reality and our own. Social issues are parsed through the lens of this world in order to avoid preaching while still dissecting human values. And all of these tropes actually indicate that The Walking Dead functions more like...
Science fiction!

Yup, if you want to know whether the show has zombies then it does. If that is all you want to know then there you go. But if you want to know what features of genre storytelling it uses then the horror label will do nothing to inform you. It's more like science fiction.

The mistake is understandable. A number of other shows have done the "technically one genre but fulfilling another". Battlestar Galactica is the first one that springs to mind. It's a fantasy show but people always forget that and then get mad when mystical aspects have a real effect on the world. People forget because it fulfills the genre functions of science fiction. Lost was on its way to be a technically science fiction show on the road to fulfilling the world-building explorations for the sake of exploration, as well as rising to the call, of the fantasy genre until it broke down in the writer's room. M*A*S*H* subverted the sit-com into a character study. This one is clear to such a degree that the laugh-track is actually optional on the DVD audio menu (and I wait for the day this is done for Sports Night as well).

End result? That maybe there certain genre stories need a genre label and a subtext label. In this case the horror label actually stopped someone from getting into The Walking Dead. To be fair, he's not much of a science fiction fan so a subtext label wouldn't have won over another Walking Dead-head, but the reason behind the avoidance is still problematic. He didn't keep on with the show because it failed as a horror show. That's kind of OK since it isn't trying to be a good horror show. The only reason it's a problem to fail at something it's not trying to be is because of that genre label. And I do think genre labels are important. I won't say that I like the majority of science fiction out there it is still safe to say that I'm a science fiction fan. There's something about the fulfillment of the genre that clicks with me, and that's also why subtextual science fiction shows also work for me.

Maybe we need to add meta-genres the same way we do sub genres. Instead of Steampunk or Urban Fantasy we should have "by way of" after a title. Horror by way of science fiction. Labels are important. Labels are words and cutting out words from storytelling will get you nothing but interpretative dance. But maybe as our genre stories are getting more complex we also should think about putting more nuance in their labels.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The BIG PICTURE or The Angel Innovation

And so the first phase of the Great Whedon Experiment has come to a conclusion: I have finished Buffy and Angel. It's been quite and experience. Seasons have flown by in mere days and so much has been learned. Here are some fast facts:
  • The best way to watch these shows is interwoven. Due to the fact that they split networks, and therefore schedules, this takes a bit of work to get right but I used this guide and it served me well. There are a few crossovers that seem cheap and out of place without context from the other show.
  • Buffy switches from 4:3 to 16:9 aspect ratios between the 3rd and 4th seasons.  The editing never quite caught on and so there are a number of slip-ups and unfinished effects. I'll show you some later.
  • Angel is not Buffy 2. If you go in expecting it to be more Buffy you won't be happy.
And that actually brings me around to something I discovered. Buffy and Angel change the world. Well, at least their world. The problem with a lot of fantasy TV is that the characters end up dealing with gigantic forces (gods, ancient creatures, spells of immense power) and that these shows often use them interchangeably. Possibly only power level of the threat is ramped up for the season while continuing on a template. Supernatural was lousy with this; Demons replaced by Angels replaced by Leviathan. Each was "bigger and badder" but functioned in essentially the same way. This is completely understandable. If the antagonistic force changed significantly then the show would have to as well. Want Sam and Dean to keep roaming the country, stopping to fight evil? Then keep the forces against them essentially the same, just leveling them up each year. If things really did change then the whole show would. Instead we usually get the new version of fill in the blank and that leads to a gradual change in tone and little else.
Buffy tried and, much more significantly, Angel tried and succeeded in changing that. Buffy's problem was that the show was stuck in a bit of a morality tale trench. The first two seasons are strictly high school metaphor and the number of "sex is bad" episodes gets a bit silly after 3 of them. The main conflict and villain ties directly to Buffy (in order we have the finales comprising being in high school, boyfriends, graduating, the mess of season 4, family, drugs/the mundanity of life, leaving home. There's the attempt at an escalation but it's not fulfilled. Somehow she goes from fighting weird and mystical individuals to full bodied demons, gods, and the incarnation of pure evil and it never leaves her home town. There's no big picture, just big feelings.
Angel is where Joss Whedon lets loose and actually attempts to push the conflict up each season. Angel goes from fighting individuals to averting the apocalypse but the show changes as well. The first season is a police procedural, season two ends as a questing fantasy, three spends a lot of time world-building so while things grow they grow a bit backward, four is a soap-opera mess and what the hell is with the fourth season of these shows?, and five is a world-spanning sit-com that just goes for it in every episode.
Why was Angel so different? It's probably a mix of changing networks, constantly trying to find a new voice while not losing Buffy fans, being able to experiment because of its low ratings, and having to experiment because of its low ratings. It wasn't low risk, it was all risk. Of course most shows can't take that sort of chance and change their genre each season. But watching Angel makes me wish that some shows did. I will admit that many shows that seem to overstay their welcome simply do that; they go on far longer than they should. But then there are the shows that don't explicitly go bad but just become unengaging (Supernatural). These are the shows that could do with a major overhaul rather than a little freshening up.  And maybe shows shouldn't be afraid to do that. Angel was constantly on the verge of cancellation but it lasted five years. That's not a flop. So if a show on the edge could keep it up for half decade then what could a show doing well manage when mixing it up?

And now a gallery of some of the best "What do you mean we're in widescreen" moments from the show. Feel free to share yours if you have any more.

I’m going to actually look directly at my un-manacled hand.

This guy was supposedly cut in half but I can clearly see his green screen pants.

Hard to tell because it’s so dark but that hand on the left side? That’s shaking a vine because the plant is alive.

The Body was a pretty heavy episode. Apparently the crew was to depressed to either finish the set behind the door on the right, or even close the door.

Wave high to the crew member chilling on the bottom of the screen.

Were this not widescreen I’m sure we wouldn’t see Spike’s modesty man-panties.

No one trained the animal trainer not to step into the scene.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Where Do We Go From Here?

The wife and I just finished our run-through of Buffy and are a good chunk into the final season of Angel. There will be a number of posts on those shows, rest assured, but this is not one of those posts. What struck me was that my wife had that sense of loss of finishing something and knowing that these characters are done. I realize that there are the comics for continued adventure but even at their best they’re still a bit off from the tone of the show. So, as the cast sang at the end of “Once More With Feeling”: where do we go from here? Take my hand, gentle readers, and I will show you. I will offer you up more television shows to help fill the excavated hole in your heart.

And the loss doesn’t have to be recent. Who among us doesn’t get that periodic twinge when they realize that a beloved series has ended. A random remembrance of that fact out of nowhere.  A flash that Harry Potter has grown up and moved away, that your favorite Starfleet ship has been decommissioned, that while you can relive Frodo’s journey again and again you will never be able to take one more new step with him. That if your home was in Sunnydale you truly can’t go home again.
So where do you go? It depends on what you’re missing from the series. People have the seasons they love and the seasons they don’t. That’s because Buffy is an amalgamation of a bunch of different genre shows which means that, depending on the story arc, it shifts in tone. That means you might like the quirky word play from the Scoobies or the emotional knife twisting of season 5. So I’ve come up with a couple of different aspects of Buffy and a show to match each one. Hopefully there’s something here to fill your yen.

The Middleman
An art student is recruited into a secret, crime fighting organization

For those who miss the early seasons, when it was quick and light.
This show is all about satirizing tropes and making good characters. The key element here is fun with an emphasis on word play. You know that ‘whedonesque’ patter? This has it in spades. From the banter between Wendy and The Middleman to the small side characters like Noser everyone here is quick, even when they’re being slow. It has a heavy hand of goofy in it, so if you really don’t like early Buffy then that may put you off

Veronica Mars
The daughter of a private eye takes on her own cases at school

For those who miss later, complex seasons.
This keeps the quick dialog going but thematically focuses a lot more on the darker side of life. If you were interested in the idea of Buffy and Spike breaking down what abusive relationships are (whether or not you think it was successfully done) then this is the show for you. Once again, it’s a cast that feels like Scoobies. They’re quick, pop culture savvy, and whenever someone is at a loss for words it’s a character moment and not a break in the script. But it is dark. I’ll say trigger warning here and just take it as a given if you watch the show. You will squirm in some episodes, but you’ll laugh in almost all of them. And just like Buffy, the description of the show turned my off while watching one episode hooked me. The summary is a high school girl investigates crimes. But taking the show as just that would be like assuming Buffy is just a standard teen vampire romance. And you know it’s so much more.

Lost Girl
A woman finds herself in the middle of Fae politics while trying to control her powers

For those that want the urban magic, and maybe some Dark Willow.
Do you want another fantasy show? Do you miss urban skewed mythological creatures? Did you enjoy the darker side of magic? Then this is the show for you. Take all of that and roll it together with a better portrayal of liquid sexuality than Willow ever got and you’ll come up with Lost Girl. The actual plot? It’s mainly thin magical political machinations draped over a frame of personal drama. But it’s fun! I’d say that the two leads, Bo and Dyson, get the plot but the fun characters are their sidekicks, Kenzi and Hale.

Todd and the Book of Pure Evil
There’s a high school and some Satanists and also Jason Mewes and it’s gross and funny. And there are a couple of musical episodes

For those that wished there was a Buffy/Evil Dead 2 crossover.
This is basically the hybrid of those two. If the silly episodes of Buffy and the last season of Angel is Urban Fantasy Marx Brothers than Todd and the Book of Pure Evil is Urban Fantasy Three Stooges. It is gross and over the top and hilarious. This show is so much more than the sum of its parts that describing it won’t sell you on it. Just go watch if the above sounds like your thing.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

What’s NEWs?

I’ve been gone for a while and I apologize. It’s been a perfect storm for imperfect TV blogging. First, I’ve been marathoning Angel and Buffy with the wife and once we got intoBuffy season 5/ Angel season 3 it’s been way too depressing to write about. Seriously Joss, you were running those two and Firefly. Things were great. Why was all of your TV so miserable?

The other reason is that my media center has been down, then up, and now replaced with a box I built myself from scratch yesterday. That means that even with what I’ve been watching, I have been in a bit of an engineer mindset. But I have been watching and waiting (to write), and I’m back.
Rather than dwell on sadness that has been my re-watching, or the disappointment of recently quit shows, I want to celebrate the coming of the new. This past season of new TV hasn’t been the greatest, but I have come away with a couple of shows that I’m pleasantly surprised with.
Sleepy Hollow. This show has quickly emerged with possibly the most rabid fans of dark humored contemporary supernatural apocalyptic storytelling since Supernatural. And why is that? The plotting is a bit thin, the interwoven historical action and contemporary story don’t always line up, and each episode’s mystery is just a bit too easy for the characters to solve. So what’s the appeal? Well, the acting is solid, the chemistry is perfect, and the characters are fun. They range from adorably gruff (Orlando Jones seems only to be rough around the edges because it makes him happy inside) to flat-out adorable (Tom Mison’s Ichabod is hilariously appalled by modern life and also has that ‘thing’ that Tom Hiddleston has where anything he says or does is automatically entertaining). That’s it and yet it is also enough.
It’s dark in direction but light in tone. Its plot is good enough to get you through. And yet at the end of each episode I felt incredibly entertained and satisfied. In a year of overly involved shows that are 100% plot driven or middling extensions of franchises, this off the wall, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink mythos in a package of fun is a welcomed addition. I avoided it at first for the remake aspect and the fact that the storylines I was hearing about weren’t engaging. If that’s what’s been keeping you away from this, then do yourself a favor and give it a watch.
The other show I’ve recently adopted is actually similar in tone. The stories are good enough but the end result of the show is still a delight to watch, and that’s Almost Human. A future where robots are sometimes indistinguishable from humans, not restrained by the laws of robotics, and framed with a gruff human detective? If you think that sounds a lot like Blade Runneryou’d be correct. And while we’re making comparisons, why not throw in the fact that he loves Asian noodles and extras are often seen carrying around umbrellas with glowing poles. Yup. Spot on. But the difference between this and Blade Runner is that Almost Human is funny. Karl Urban plays his cop like Harrison Ford but not so much Deckard as Han Solo. He’s fed up with everything but doesn’t have that dark resignation. Michael Ealy as his partner is fantastic. There’s no slow roll out of unrobotic quirks; rather, he is turned on and immediately picks up with his development from before the show and his dismantling.
The tone is actually more like the secret sit-com that Stargate SG-1 was so good at pulling off. The plots are serious but the characters and banter often sound so fun that you can imagine the writers simply refusing to cut it for the sake of tone. The result is a show that knows what it is. Another thing that helps with that self-awareness that keeps it from getting too heavy is the production. It looks like it has a good budget but the way they use it mostly for layering effects on existing, hyper-well lit sets rather than whole cloth scene rendering brings to mind a lot of Canadian shows like ContinuumWelcome to Paradox, and evenTotal Recall 2070, which was a cop show in the combined universe of Blade Runner andTotal Recall. This layering style and careful selection of physical settings gives the whole thing a cheap/expensive look, sort of as if the future were built out of cutting edge appliances. Nothing is dirty, everything looks like plastic and is lit like a commercial. It’s just enough to let them off the hook for lacking a gritty angle and that works for the funny tone that is throughout this procedural.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Four Vs. The Buffy Balance

In most speculative fiction, there’s a balance of elements: plot, character, world building, etc. Depending on what one is trying to accomplish, something might take the lead. In action, it will usually be led by plot; hard science fiction sometimes leans toward the world building, and when something is both speculative and “literary,” then it’s most often code for character. With most genre television it’s usually a careful balance of all three. And sometimes that balance is broken.

In Buffy The Vampire Slayer at some point each of these takes the lead, throwing the elements out of balance, for better or worse. During my re-watch I’ve just emerged from season 3 into the notorious season 4. This season introduces the ham-handed science fiction element that fails from 1999, when the season premiered, until 2012, when it was retooled for the successful Cabin In The Woods. This season also features the teutonic Riley Finn whose very presence is the cause for classical guitar solos, a character who can only be described as aggressively benign. But one of the worst offenders is how it highlights how utterly far behind the character of Buffy has fallen in relation to the plot and world building.
Buffy’s first personal story in this season is her dealing with classmate Parker. He’s a sensitive guy who quickly woo’s her to bed with a pre-written script and lack of any chemistry. He then considers his work done and moves on. Buffy does not. In a later episode he refers back to this incident and her subsequent emotional follow-up with the joke “What’s the difference between a freshman girl and a toilet? A toilet doesn’t follow you around when you’re done using it.” Charming, I know.
But follow him she does. She’s utterly confused by his lack of a phone call over the next few days. Her slaying suffers. She asks Willow constant advice on what happened. She repeatedly wonders out loud what she did wrong. She tries to justify his behaviour and questions her own. But she’s done nothing wrong. She was fooled by an asshole. End of story. And the storyline doesn’t even have her realize what she does at this juncture, either. Instead there’s a binge drinking metaphor episode where Buffy regresses to a caveman like mentality. In that episode Willow actually has the closure conversation and Buffy settles it by being put in a situation where she can physically deal with her issues. She pulls Parker from a burning building and, since she’s still in caveman mind, hits him with a stick. Physical strength substituting for emotional.
All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again. In the very special “sex is bad” episode in season 2 Buffy sleeps with Angel. This causes him to lose his soul and she wakes up next to an asshole. Her response then? She wonders if she was bad at sex and what did she do wrong. Now, this is perfectly fine in the context of the show’s second season, and of her first serious relationship and her first time. This occurence ends very similarly to the way things work out in season 4. She has trouble dealing and is put in a situation where it’s OK to physically attack for closure, stabbing Angel to send him to hell. His soul returning at the last moment makes it harder for her but
The problem is the show is now in season 4 and Buffy is still just as emotionally weak if not weaker. She’s learned about herself in her social circles. She lost her powers for a bit and came to some self discovery about how much she appreciates being different. She even had to face the opposite side of that at the end of season 3 and really discover where she draws the line on using her powers. But by Buffy: The College Years she should really have grown a bit in terms of who she is as an individual. She’s a strong person but a terribly weak woman. And the regression in her fallout with Parker is jarring and discomfiting.
As a side not I am also watching Angel in sync with Buffy. There is an episode just after the Parker incident in Angel where Buffy goes to LA to visit. She is furious at him for sneaking in during the Thanksgiving episode to help but not say hello. She says she doesn’t understand why he stayed hidden and that he should have asked her first. In essence she says that he should have asked her directly for permission to hide from her, and that she didn’t understand what he was avoiding and how dare he dredge up these feelings when she found out he had been there. Only towards the end of all this does she slowly see his point. Fine, it was a fun bit of confrontation (even if it was Sorkin-esque in its mirroring of a scene from season 1 of Buffy). But it was a terrible bit of character. Once again Buffy regresses to a foolish, emotionally incompetent child when faced with an emotional crises until it either passes on its own while she remains passive or it gets a metaphorical plot that lets her punch the representation of it.
That said, I’m beginning to wonder if season 4 might not be the ultimate failure that I remember it as. The arc is rubbish and even rewatching it the larger story points don’t go anywhere. At this point I’m just about halfway through the season and nothing has really happened. The dialogue is still great though so at least it’s a very enjoyable treading of the waters.
P.S. I’ll try to spread out the Buffy posts. New shows are starting up so hopefully something will grab my attention for better or worse.