Avox in Arcadia (perpetual) wrote,
Avox in Arcadia

  • Mood:
  • Music:

Review etc: "School Hard"

You cannot overestimate the importance of this episode to the future of the show. Plus, it's good!

Before we get into that, though, I need to tell you about how much I love Drusilla. In fact, consider this my Drusilla tribute. The moment she showed up, she became my favorite Buffyverse villain, and that hasn't changed (although it does get temporarily adjusted whenever Angelus shows his face). In fact, she's one of my favorite characters, period.

So I was watching this episode, and I was thinking about Drusilla, and I was comparing myself to Drusilla, and I realized I have a few things in common with her, which is great! Or maybe not. And there were also some things I don't have in common with her. So I made a chart. It just seemed logical.

You can use this in case you get confused about which of us is which. Onwards!

Because Spike and Dru Is Why: A couple episodes ago I mentioned a memory of a moment that put me on the path of B/A shipping. Apparently that happened before I was on the path to this becoming my favorite show, because there's no particular moment I remember for that, but there are characters, and those characters are Spike and Dru. (The relevant quote from my real-life self circa 2008 or thereabouts is "The vampires are so much better in this season!" I don't remember at what point I said it, but it was most definitely in Season 2.)

I had heard of Spike, but not Drusilla. I had some vague notion that the first season was supposed to be the campiest and things would improve from there, but forget that, let's look at it like an unspoiled fan. The first season sets up this format of a Big Bad, which harries Buffy until she defeats it in the season finale. Nobody's complaining about that, but it's a given that the Master made you yawn a bit. Possibly the niftiest thing about him was that he took on a protege, who survived the first season and ominously showed up in the second one, promising us a new antagonist for Buffy. Possibly a much stronger one! I mean, he's anointed. Now she's in trouble.

So the Anointed One has that much going for him. He's got some kind of power and we really don't know anything about it. The entire Sunnydale underworld seems to obey him without a second thought. Children are creepy, we all know that.

Unfortunately, he's also totally lame. Aside from his youthful appearance, his whole schtick is rehashing what the Master gave us, and honestly, the youthful appearance doesn't have much to recommend it either. If we're into the genre, we've seen child vampires before, or at least some kind of child monster. We swallow it because we're aware that we're watching a horror show and we like that it's respecting horror tropes. Sort of like the vampires with their dark rituals - traditionalism has its value.

But not to Spike. He doesn't care about traditions. He skips the dark rituals. He isolates the symbol of the horror trope that the show is leaning on, stuffs it in a cage, and KILLS IT DEAD. "From now on we're gonna have a little less ritual and a little more fun around here." Thanks, Joss! I mean, Spike!

Come to think of it, I kind of sound like I'm describing the concept behind Cabin in the Woods, huh? Well, no surprise that that's an old pet.

This is the first time that a Big Bad is introduced, only to be killed and replaced by another. In fact, that kind of twist is never again pulled off effectively for the next five seasons, which makes it all the more amazing that Season 2 does it twice. You thought you knew what was coming? Hell no. From now on, you're not just watching because it touches you when Willow smiles or Buffy cries, or because there are going to be jokes and ugly demons that you don't want to miss. You're watching because it's the only way you're ever going to find out what happens.

I wish I could have been there when the writers took a look at what they had done so far, thought about how to improve on it, and realized suddenly (I imagine it coming suddenly, okay) that they could create interesting villains. Was it something they seized on after admitting that they had to off the Anointed One before the actor yielded to his pesky adolescent habit of visibly aging? Did someone point out that it was possible within the framework of the mythology for soulless demons to have their own personalities? Was there a sense of trepidation over upsetting the rules of horror?

However it happened, you can't deny that they hit the jackpot with Spike and Drusilla. Every aspect of the characters, at least in their initial appearance, is perfect: the dialogue, the background, the costumes, and the casting (dear God, the CASTING). Most of all, the way the two of them complement each other. I'm not saying that they have more chemistry than Buffy and Angel, 'cause I'm physically incapable of it (and it's not true), but they had something of their own which nobody did better than them. I'd venture to say that Spike and Drusilla are the most artistically designed couple in the 'verse. The similarities in their features work in harmony with the contrast of their coloration and wardrobe. They both look like vampires, and neither looks like any vampire you've ever seen before. They move like dancers around each other, just as their voices weave around each other. That famous shot of them turning in unison after almost kissing makes my mouth water. I don't know how they're even real.

And they're evil. They're so evil. They're a big bowl of evil with evil sprinkles. And they're in love. They're so in love. They're...wait, I'm contradicting myself.

We all get to squabble over whether Buffy loved Spike, but it's less common to deny that Spike loved Buffy. That Spike loved Drusilla is pretty much a given. I've said so plenty of times, for the sake of simplicity. Truth is, though, I don't believe that love is possible without a soul. Spike and Dru were all about jealousy and affection - also loyalty, which is hard to place on the morality spectrum but ultimately isn't an aspect of altruistic love. (Sorry, Rainbow Dash.) Anyway, we find out in the end that nothing they share is enough to keep them together, so the loyalty itself is a fail.

Their sham romance, however, is exactly what makes them so fascinating. It's immediately evident that this kind of relationship is not normal among vampires, and the old school ones won't easily accept it. (This might come across fairly subtly in the aired episode, but check a deleted scene I quoted below for more of it.) In addition, Spike and Dru themselves call it love, and play it up to the max, with or without eyes on them. I love how domestic they are, and how easily they converse, consulting with each other or just trading sweet nothings. They have to know they're making a bad impression that way, but they don't care - they do what they want. Eventually, everyone learns that they do what they want, and that's when it starts working in their favor: rebel chic. Follow me, because I'm sure as hell not going to follow you.

This is especially important as part of Spike's character - Drusilla not so much, since her insanity negates a lot of what we could learn about her from her actions. Spike continues to disregard rules right on through the end of the series and beyond. And beyond that too. (Dammit, Spike, you're dead! Dead characters don't star in the next season! It's a rule!) To me, this is the key to his big moment, the acquisition of his soul. Why did he want one when no vampire ever had before? Well, because he doesn't care what vampires are supposed to want. Breaking tradition is frowned upon, and given his success with it in the past, that's only going to egg him on.

Consistency makes my little heart go pitter-patter.

Oh Buffy, and Her Mom:Moving on to the other characters, though I have much less to say about them: I love Buffy in this episode. There really isn't any kind of straightforward lesson for her to learn, or another iteration of accepting her destiny. We just get to see that there's a whole lot of pressure on her, and she's doing a damn good job with it.

The hardest moment for me is her mother saying "What I don't want is to be
disappointed in you again." Joyce has no idea about Buffy's extremely legitimate reasons for the incidents in her past, but even if the criticism were deserved, it's harsh. Buffy really needs some positive reinforcement from her family...although, I guess that's what she gets at the end of the episode. Maybe that's the Aesop. It was certainly gratifying when they made up at the end. It was gratifying to the power of Never Forget This when Joyce hit Spike with an axe.

One way or another, Buffy kicks a lot of ass and everyone except Snyder respects her for it at the end, which is also helpful for the sake of Snyder's character development inasmuch as he has any.

Because B/A: Buffy and Angel's relationship doesn't really progress much here, which is fine, because each gets some good individual attention and also there's just the sweetest thing ever when Angel first shows up. Allow me to repeat what I said on Tumblr at some point about this scene - Situation's dire, everyone is watching, Angel is all grim and down to business, and Buffy still starts flirting with him the moment he walks into the room. Best girl ever.

And it works! She gets him to smile! This is the kind of thing, I guess, that gives them the rep of having an immature romance, but I wouldn't give it up for the world. Angel won't attempt to teach Buffy how to be a 240-year-old. Instead he'll learn how to be a teenager.

More fog about whether they're dating, btw. The dialogue gives us both yes and no, but also confirms that both of them and everyone they know are aware that there are romantic feelings between them.

Giles and Objects: I didn't see any clear shots of Giles holding anything except books. Frowny face.

Cordelia and Boyfriends: No boyfriends, but Cordy almost looks like a Scooby now if you squint. That happened fast. She doesn't act like she enjoys their company, but she's in on the secret, so she helps whittle stakes. Very cool, mean girl!

Angel and Spike: They really start out at a level, don't they? Angel has mentor status, but is unable to fool Spike (which is impressive; he can basically fool anyone else). They don't exactly fight as such, but we don't get the impression that Angel would win.

Also, shared history! I swoon. We even get introduced to the idea of Angel being Spike's sire, before it's cruelly wrested from us. (I have a favorite fanwank theory for this, but I'd rather explain it in fanfic form, and I've already done one for this episode.) So much background being established, and we don't even have the Angelus/Drusilla part of the story yet! Also I have a serious love-on for Angel playing Angelus, and this is the first time it happens. Sorry, I can see the quality of this synopsis diminishing, but I can't stop listing things I love here even when I don't actually have anything to say about them.

Not sure what to do with Spike's outrage at Angel betraying his race. Does that reinforce what I said about his loyalty, or does it contradict what I said about his rebelliousness? Wait, does his loyalty contradict his rebelliousness? I don't think so, but I'm squirreling this one away to poke at later.

Something about Xander: What Xander really needs to prove, regarding his feelings about Angel, is that it's not about jealousy but distrust. If he fears for his friends' safety around a vampire, even a supposedly reformed one, I couldn't blame him for that. If it's just because Angel got the girl, shame shame. If it's the latter but he pretends it's the former, more shame yet, and at times it really does seem like that's the case.

Here, he believes he's seen Angel finally showing his true colors, and he claims (rather bravely!) that he always knew. I'm sure he means it. A few minutes later he's proven wrong. Does he still mean it? Does this change anything about the assumptions he's been making? Should it?

That's all I got. IT'S PLENTY. But here's an image.

It's just Buffy's drawer of Things to Keep Secret From Mom, but I noticed something awesome in there. Brass knuckles, with spikes! I want to see her use those!

Random notes:

• I've always thought that Spike's speech in this episode (and possibly the next few) had a musical quality to it that he lost later on. In a recent interview with Marsters I learned that this was just the result of him not quite having his English accent down yet. I was crushed.

• Regarding the Anne Rice routine: Angel's said to be a ripoff of Louis, but as far as I know, Louis never returned to humanity. It would have been hard to pity him, even as a reader.

• The first we hear about Dru's visions is that it's dark where the Slayer is - an uncertain future, apparently, which I like. It would have been easy enough to give her some vague proclamation which didn't give away plot points but still came true, but it's better this way. Nobody has a clue what's coming.

• The dialogue between Giles and Jenny is beautiful. She comes across as exactly as intelligent as he is, though in a different way, like Willow. She doesn't usually get listed as one of the big brains, but I think there's evidence that she is one.

• Looked up the lyrics to "Stupid Thing". No hidden secrets. Tolerable song but rather boring.

• Willow, your job here is not to conceal the lemonade error! What if someone important had tasted it and expelled Buffy?!

Finally, here's some icons. All Spike/Dru, since that's what was currently speaking to my soul. I rather like these and that makes me hope that someday someone other than me will want to use an icon that I made. Oh, and I'm throwing in a revised one from an earlier episode because I got the text on there the way I wanted.
Tags: episode review, graphics: btvs/ats, icons: btvs/ats

  • Review etc: What's My Line, Part 1

    I’m watching Buffy for the first time in two years. I’m excited. I dug up the summary that I started for this one, but I don’t know what it will…

  • Review etc: The Dark Age

    It's high time for a Giles episode, and here one comes. In fact, here comes the most attention his backstory will get, as far as I remember.…

  • Review etc: Lie to Me

    Yeah the last one was "The Pack" and now I'm suddenly in S2, but I've explained elsewhere how it all makes sense. The topic today is lying, and…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.

  • Review etc: What's My Line, Part 1

    I’m watching Buffy for the first time in two years. I’m excited. I dug up the summary that I started for this one, but I don’t know what it will…

  • Review etc: The Dark Age

    It's high time for a Giles episode, and here one comes. In fact, here comes the most attention his backstory will get, as far as I remember.…

  • Review etc: Lie to Me

    Yeah the last one was "The Pack" and now I'm suddenly in S2, but I've explained elsewhere how it all makes sense. The topic today is lying, and…