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.
Here's Giles with an artist's interpretation of his rebellious salad days.
Many years in the future, a comic series called Angel and Faith (featured above, in case that isn't clear) will draw heavily on "The Dark Age" and expand on the lore for the demon Eyghon. Reluctantly, I've gone back to my old comic reviews to sift through them for anything particularly relevant or interesting. I haven't given myself the complete picture of Rupert Giles that I hoped for, but I did make special note of one line which he allegedly said in the past: "What the denizens of Hell refuse to accept is that damnation is, at some point, a choice."
The Giles that we see in the present day is ready to take responsibility for his own choices. He may even take it too far, but we see his best side as well as his worst here: he knows that he brought his own doom on himself, and his utmost priority is to keep it from hurting anyone else. If he knew what show he was in he would understand the futility in that, but it's still good to see him stepping up to take care of his loved ones. The spotlight is on his relationships with Buffy and Jenny, so we end up learning more about both of them, too.
Buffy Is the Title: Call me a fuddy-duddy but I have absolutely no sympathy for Buffy's terrible aerobicizing music. Why does she even need to do standard human exercise routines? Why does she need to bother Giles with it? Isn't this one activity she can safely do at home without making her mother suspicious? Has she ever heard of headphones? Or how about just turning it down low enough that you can still hear someone being gruesomely murdered right outside the door? YOUR MUSIC KILLED PHILLIP, BUFFY.
Fortunately, for all that Buffy is totally lame in this episode (in the sense of taste, not character -- she's brave and caring as always) and I mostly can't relate at all, she does give me a blip of nostalgia for the Gavin Rossdale namecheck. He was the lead singer of Bush, a band we were all into when I was Scooby-aged, and yes, he was really hot. Also have to appreciate Willow's choice of John Cusack. Rather than just being a straight-up hunk, he's a good actor with some intriguing indefinable quality, very fitting for Willow's teenage nonconformity and perceptiveness. I don't know who Amy Yip is, and don't want to know.
The Buffy and Angel Show: I've always loved the way Angel says, "Everybody knows about this," because no, Angel, everybody does not. He's using the word to refer to a specific set of people, like we would with, "Come to my party, everyone's gonna be there." Context tells you who those people are, and in this case, it's vampires. Angel doesn't want to be associated with other vampires, but it doesn't even cross his mind that Buffy will forget he is one. It's no wonder she gets that iffy expression after asking him if he can take care of the blood bags.
I'd really like to hear more on how he felt about being the MacGuffin to kill Eyghon. It must have been painful, and dangerous, and it wasn't even to save Buffy, but we can see he doesn't hesitate.
My Willow Tree: Does Willow hesitate, though? Or does she subconsciously see Angel as indestructible, or even dispensable? Fortunately, it worked, so all we have to find out about her in this adventure, once again, is that she's wicked resourceful.
It seems she drinks tea. And she's not even British.
Cordelia and Boyfriends: In the first 1.5 seasons, a lot of Cordelia's scenes feel like they're put there just so she can have an appearance, or for comic relief, rather than advancing the plot at all. I'm not complaining. Her dialogue when she crashes the police investigation in the library is hilarious. But when I gave it a closer look I realized that she was quite necessary in that scene, because the Scoobies needed to find out what was going on, and to get the timing right it had to be from someone who wouldn't volunteer the information up front. Every character really does have a function in this show. Go Cordy!
Xander and Bus Stations: Fandom tends to hate on Xander for his judgmental and petulant comments about women, but the times that he really bothers me don't have much to do with that -- check out the scene where Buffy tells the gang she's worried about Giles. Here's Xander undercutting practically every other line with some kind of joke, and this is so not the time. I honestly don't know how they all put up with him when he's in that kind of mood.
By the way, Cordelia has seen him fight. When? Were we there?
We have a veritable wealth of Giles and Objects here today!:
Here's Giles with his briefcase and some books, and a bonus Jenny.
Here's Giles with a mini slide-open prison window on his door. Not quite in the category but I love that his house has that and that he uses it.
Here's Giles with a tellyphone, looking like a small, lost child.
Here's Giles with a drink that is definitely not tea.
Here's Giles with a deathgrip on his sonovabitch ex-buddy. ANGERY.
Giles continues to be cooler than Buffy as we learn more about his past. If you're going to summon demons, 70's London is absolutely the right setting for it. YUM. Even in the present day, this episode gives us a lot of Ripper, otherwise known as Dangerous Sexy Giles, so it's pretty much a guaranteed win.
"Laugh all you want, but the problem with this culture is its disregard for decorum, which I believe has led to the current pursuit of feel-good nihilism." This (deleted) line actually makes me want to dress more formally. Whether or not Giles is right about decorum, he's dead on about feel-good nihilism and I for one am willing to go to great lengths on the off chance that matters could be improved.
Giles/Jenny isn't my favorite ship in the verse, but I have no qualms with it, either. They're clearly in love, and just because I cringe when she makes fun of him or jokes about ruining his books doesn't mean that he does. (The script has him getting all "herp derp" after that; it does him a disservice and I'm glad it was cut.) It's nice to have a couple grownups around, and after Jenny's gone, we'll basically have Giles carrying that burden alone until we're supposed to start considering the Scoobies as adults. They never quite pull it off, and the vampires never quite count either, so...Giles. Giles and villains, or parents, or recurring minor roles.
Whenever characters suffer from a trauma that doesn't quite have a real-world parallel to guide our expectations, there's always a question of how long it should take them to recover emotionally, and what does or doesn't help. I don't see a lot of consistency, but I don't think that's a problem with the show (or any other fiction dealing with the same type of thing). It just stands out when a villain such as Eyghon is defeated (allegedly) at the end of the episode, but a victim (like Jenny) is still affected by it enough to be avoiding Giles. Works well within her arc, as well as Giles's character development, as well as the buildup to her death, which in turn is pivotal to the main storyline of the season. And it still works as a stand-alone!
Rather than script quotes, this time I'd like to give you some comic quotes from the arc of Angel and Faith that I mentioned above, in which Eyghon shows up again as a MOTW. Here's some lore; it was actually woven quite skillfully into the existing canon.
(explaining how Eyghon survived "The Dark Age")
I thought he'd been destroyed -- or at least banished -- when he tried to jump into me, and the demon already in there threw him out. There weren't any dead or unconscious bodies around for him to escape into.
No human ones. He jumped into a dead rat.
From there he took over a passed-out homeless man. When Eyghon enters a corpse, it can't handle his energies for long. Sooner or later, it just dissolves. With an unconscious person, it's different.
Yes. The ancient writings say that if the victim cannot be exorcised, eventually Eyghon will be "born from within the host." His true form, birthed into our world.
Truth is, the comics did a much better job than the show at making Eyghon a scary villain.
And here's an enlightening conversation between post-Oxford Rupert and a much older Watcher, touching much the same emotional theme as the episode does:
Yes, yes. I know the story by heart. I am not you, Gran. Not nearly as strong or clever. People have died. Horribly. Because of me. Because I was stupid and selfish.
You were a young fool who felt immortal, did remarkably ill-advised things, and it cost people their lives, eh?
You bloody idiot.
That doesn't disqualify you from being a Watcher. It makes you perfectly suited to mentor a Slayer.
They're young girls granted tremendous power. Who can relate to them better? A man like your father, who's done the right and proper thing all his life? Or you?
What I've done goes well beyond a misspent youth.
Oh, stop. I know all about Eyghon.
Perhaps your soul is damned. Perhaps he'll claim it the moment you die and subject you to an eternity of torment. If you want to be selfish about it, a lifetime of good works may be the one way to save yourself from that fate. The only path to redemption.
And if you genuinely want to atone for what you've done, it's your duty. Much as you despise the word.
You feel you've done wrong? Then stop crying about it...and start making amends.
But here's a couple script quotes anyway:
TILT BACK UP and REVEAL PHILIP, standing behind the attendant in a very un-dead way. Philip is shirtless and, presumably, corpse-naked. He looks like shit, being dead and all.
Willow and the "I thought teachers slept in coffins all summer" mentality:
You went by his place? He has a place?
(off their looks)
Of course he has a... I just never
think of him living anywhere outside
the library. So there was weirdness?
• The custodian in the cold open has the same kind of blue collar accent as the guy who finds Bruce after he un-Hulks in the first Avengers movie. I don't know what it is but I love it.
• The title "The Dark Age" at first seems to imply only a bad time, long ago, but I wonder if we're also supposed to read "age" as a person's age, old or young. This could be either the darkness of youth, inexperience making one blind, or the darkness of age, steeped in regret.
• My biggest complaint about this episode is the line "Was it good for you too?" right after Jenny has become Eyghon. It sounds incredibly stupid in context, since all they did was kiss, and it diminishes some of the power of the same line used in "Innocence" (which was absolutely perfect). Makes me mad just thinking about it.
• No matter how many times the characters say it, I still pronounce Eyghon as "Ay-gon" in my head. Don't know why. Can't help it.