Avox in Arcadia (perpetual) wrote,
Avox in Arcadia

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Review etc: "When She Was Bad"

I'm trying to figure out a way to make these more compact and less rambly, maybe with a change of format. Honestly I feel kind of silly referring to blog entries as "reviews", for either episodes or comic issues, but it's a convenient go-to word. Whether or not I come up with a cohesive analysis of the entire piece (and I don't care too much if I don't), I'd like them to be somewhat enjoyable to read. So for starters, I'm going to try categorizing segments of rant by character/ship. People like lists.

Xander has needs: It’s kind of refreshing and kind of just plain WEIRD that Xander doesn’t try to obscure his crush on Buffy at all. We already know at this point that he’s a loyal friend to her with or without romantic reciprocation. Isn’t that a better cover for wanting to see her than “I have certain needs”? He even pretends (fake-pretends) that he doesn't care when she's getting back - well, that's kind of rotten of you, Xander. Willow cares when she gets back.

Xander's being defined too much by his unrequited lust, at this point, but it's not the writing; he's doing it to himself. What was he like before he had an object of affection? Did he not like himself without the posturing? Whenever we see him really shine, like when the vampire attacks, it's at a moment when he had to act without thinking it through. (The choreography gave his punch a little more thunk than he rightfully should have had but I do not grudge that.) His impulses are in the right place, but he covers them up with something worse, constructing a shabbier version of himself to send out into the world.

I can't quite parse this, but right now he's a far cry from "the one who sees everything" that he's supposed to become. Willow knows Buffy's being mean; he not only denies that anything's wrong, but he leaves the conversation hanging there. (And doesn't get the ice cream nose!) Is this an aspect of his crush taking him over, or is just plain dumb?

Willow is a nerd: Willow's feelings for him Xander always frustrate me, not because I can't understand where she's coming from - he's got a lot of fine attributes, which she knows better than anyone, and anyway teenage crushes aren't supposed to make sense - but because I can't figure out how it affects their dynamic. He knows about it, she knows he knows, but they still function as best friends and he rattles on about Buffy and she teases him in good nature. Is her heart not being crushed, like, every minute? Is he really okay with that? I think we're supposed to assume that he's oblivious, but I don't really buy that. Or I just don't have a lot of sympathy for oblivious. Anyway, he does start flirting with her in the cold open, so he has to be aware of having some responsibility over the state of her heart.

Aside from that, though. "Well, sure, if you're ALWAYS scissors, of course your tendons are gonna stretch --" This here is a quote you forget as soon as you hear it, but several years in the future, you realize that hey, not only does Willow lecture Xander about his choices regarding his health, but Xander always makes the same move in a game whose entire purpose is to be random. I love them both.

The movies they're quoting are all geek movies. This elevates Willow in my eyes, since she's usually just the smart side of nerd while Xander's the speculative media side. I just love the idea of them having sci-fi movie marathons together. Did she love Planet of the Apes, or just tolerate it for Xander's sake?

Let me just go see if I can find the Witness ice cream scene, since I haven't seen that one...no luck. Apparently Harrison Ford is in it, though? Maybe I'll just have to watch the whole thing.

Buffy is the title: And, finally. Buffy's appearance. Isn't it interesting that the title of the episode is in the past tense? I think this is a message to viewers - the Buffy that you see here is temporary. Later she'll look back at this as the time that she was bad, because she won't be bad forever. It's a relief to know that before you go into the episode, because a show that stars a character you can't like at all is generally a show you don't want to keep watching, but, for me, it's not enough.

My problem with "When She Was Bad" is more or less unavoidable: Buffy's barely in it. Her part is played by some mean girl who looks like her and slays vampires. And of course that's the whole point - Buffy isn't herself, and she needs the events of the episode to come back to who she really is. I like seeing that happen, but it's so early in the series to have to deal with a personality change so drastic in the main character. Especially since it's the season premier: while every other element of the show is setting the stage for what's going to spin out over the season, Buffy's doing the exact opposite, and it's jarring.

Fortunately I knew better at the time than to let it bother me too much, and now I know even better than that because I'm a raving fangirl. Buffy's shadow side does have purpose, it makes sense, it's played well, and it's interesting. Objectively that totally balances it against "not very enjoyable", but retrospect does help.

The signs may be there as soon as she appears, but for me, the first clear hint of Bad Buffy is her indifference to seeing Giles. When she calls Xander and Willow "losers" and "sloppy", she could be kidding with them - that's not really the way that Buffy kids, but based on the first season alone, we don't really know that yet. But not looking forward to seeing her Watcher? That's an outright denial of the bond they formed last year; she's relegating him to his position as a teacher, just as she'll try to relegate Willow and Xander to mere friends, keeping them outside of her Slayer duties. What she learned in Season One was mostly about herself - she doesn't know yet that there's a Scooby Gang, that they need to be both friends and warriors to work right, and that her acceptance of her team will be what sets her apart from other Slayers. This is right at the center of her character and the show itself, so this episode is somewhat pivotal in that it explores the theme directly.

Can't get out of here without discussing the famous dance with Xander at the Bronze. I love how in chorus fandom is about this scene. Everyone thinks Buffy's being reprehensible. Everyone gets mad at her and feels at least a little sorry for someone else in the scene. And I'm just fascinated. I can't help it. That was just such a sophisticated, wide-ranging act of manipulation. Three different people, all of them deeply wounded by this, each for a different reason, and all Buffy has done is dance.

Without making any excuse for her: why is this so bad? Can't she be sexy if she wants? (And damn, she's good at it.) She led Xander to the dance floor; she didn't force him there. All of this is well within her rights. Angel has no claim on her, Willow has no claim on Xander, and Xander is kind of getting exactly what he wants. But she's hurting them. She knows it. She might be deliberately giving the finger to Angel and Xander to tell them she's uncomfortable and they need to back off, but they haven't really done anything to make her uncomfortable, and you'd think she'd try saying a word about it first if she was. And she's got no quarrel at all with Willow. This is all about hurting people because she can. The dance itself is almost irrelevant. Her friends are affected because they know there's nothing here to interpret.

I don't think dream sequences are anyone's favorite thing, but I really like the one with Giles turning into the Master. The nifty part is that there's doubt about how much of it is really dream: it could be entirely, since nothing that happens before the reveal is vital, but Willow and Xander are so in character and everything is so normal that it makes me wonder about the power of Buffy's subconscious. Either she's got a deep undercurrent of affection and understanding for her friends going on beneath the fear and trauma, or this is a real moment mixed in with the dream. Reminds me of Inception - does Buffy remember sitting down in the lobby?

Also, there's the slightly terrifying nature of the dream itself. When I was a kid, my worst nightmares involved my parents turning into monsters (or otherwise betraying me in a child-accessible way). I still can't think of anything scarier than a trusted, beloved parental figure turning on you. It's almost a relief when he turns out to be the Master in disguise - at least Giles wasn't the one strangling Buffy. And Xander and Willow, not only being useless but not even noticing is the icing on the betrayal. If this is how she sees the world right now, I can't blame her at all for the way she's been acting.

Another Bad Buffy scene I love is her torturing the "Tara" vampire with her cross. Again, why is this bad? It's not wrong to kill a vampire, but it's wrong to hurt one? Definitely yes - the reason that we avoid suffering in others is not because they don't deserve to suffer, but because it's not for us to decide who deserves to suffer. Angel and Xander see what's wrong; although they couldn't care less about the fate of Tara, they're afraid of what this is doing to Buffy. It's clear enough here that hurting soulless creatures is nonetheless wrong, and I believe that moral stance holds throughout the series, but we won't see another example of it until Spike gets chipped.

B/A and my heart: My interest in early-S2 B/A is actually more about the mechanics of it than the little subtleties in their interactions. Is this a relationship? What kind? They're not dating, and it doesn't sound like they've been in contact at all since Buffy left Sunnydale. On the other hand, her denial of there being an "us" and her frigid rejection of him (which is immediate, unlike her reunions with the others) make it obvious that she's harboring feelings. I'm so curious about how they're handling this without setting any rules or boundaries. Angel has outright admitted to Giles that he's in love with Buffy; Buffy has been open enough about her own attraction. They deliberately avoided each other until - what? Something happened after "Prophecy Girl" that we didn't see, and it won't be the last time. One thing's clear, though: the story of them dating and their establishment as a couple will never be concurrent with the story of them falling in love. If there's love between them at all, it's already alive by the time we get to Season 2, even though nothing else about the two of them is defined.

I'm not totally immune to the subtleties of their interactions, of course. See how direct he is about her attitude? There's not even a lead-up to asking what she's afraid of, he just goes there. And later, "You're not as strong as you think." Ouch! Is he allowed to say that? I don't think so! But that's Angel. I don't think he's ever cared about her strength so much as how she uses it.

I like this screencap:

Cordelia and boyfriends: No boyfriend this time. The script mentioned a jock at her heels during one scene, but he didn't get a name or a line even before he was cut out. Cordy's a bit on the sideline in this episode, but her dialogue is fantastic, especially when she tells Buffy off in the aisle. This isn't the first time we've seen her do any good, but I think it's a first for her particular style of doing good. It's not just a woman showing strength, it's Cordy showing a strength that's uniquely hers, contributing something that she alone can contribute. Not to mention that she's angry about the way Buffy's treating others - I think she might care about them! Also, this was left out:

...so I'm gonna do you a favor.

Joyous me.

Your friends can't do it, 'cause they
like you. And they're sort of afraid
of you.

Maybe that makes everything too clear to be stated outright, but I love it and also believe it. Cordy isn't afraid of Buffy. You know who Cordy's afraid of? NO ONE. (Also great segue with the vampires kidnapping her, yay!)

Giles and objects:

Here he is with a book. I know that happens in every episode and the picture quality isn't great here, but I like the pose.

Here is Giles with a soda. He doesn't like it, though.

Giles is wise and good and perfect and I love him and his bi-color eyes and his books. He does not like his soda. Everyone goes to him for help and advice. He is like totally into Miss Calendar and she's into him.

Random notes:

• Buffy's still sleeping on a crocheted pillow. WHY.
• I kinda like the Cibo Matto song! And it works really well in the scene.
• The vamp extras are named Vampire Bob, Vampire Jane, Vampire Walt, and Vampire Ned.
• I read Absalom, Absalom! in college. Even did a presentation on it. Don't remember a word of the book or what I said about it. Screw you, Faulkner.
• I've never been to Burning Man, but I've heard about it from those who have, and if I felt confident in my ability to survive it, it would probably be a dream of mine to go. Giles maybe not so much, but I love it that Jenny loved it.

I have a hard time appreciating the drama of the scene where Buffy smashes the Master's skeletons, because I'm too busy waiting to see how much of it rebuilds between shots.

Also, betcha anything that Giles is watching this spectacle thinking, "Why didn't we just do this in the first place?"

And that wraps another exciting day in Kairos Rewatches Buffy Very Slowly and Talks About It. Cheers!
Tags: episode review, graphics: btvs/ats

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