Yes, this is a blog about music. No, this post is not about music. But it is about a tv series with amazing music and a knack for promoting indie artists. It also features an amazing musical episode, clever use/rejection of score for episode emphasis and mood, and features the awesome pipes of Anthony Stewart Head. Thus, I feel no shame for this hijack.
My friend Suze and I both adore Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Suze, being someone whose post-secondary education immerses her in pop culture and media, is always fascinating to discuss television with, namely because she fleshes out and adds a more intelligent flair to my own babbles about TV and its characters. The last time we hung out, we marathoned Buffy, taking turns choosing episodes that we loved. Naturally, we hit up classics known to fans.
For what we dubbed Buffy-Gras, we had two rules: we couldn’t choose episodes from the last round, and we had to justify why the episode we’d chosen was worth watching/special. My thoughts on our choices, blended with Suze’s, follow below. Warning: spoilers ahead! And since this is one of the best shows ever, you better have watched it already!
Episodes Not Eligible for Buffy-Gras: Once More, With Feeling; Storytellers; Triangle; Dead Man’s Party; Primeval; Beauty and the Beasts.
For Suze’s thoughts on Buffy-Gras, CLICK ME.
Prophecy Girl (Season 1)
Chosen by: Suze
Why?: “Because it’s the first episode where Buffy became good. The stakes were raised and this wasn’t some cute show.“
Prophecy Girl is, by far, one of the best episodes of season one, and one of the best episodes of the entire series. Up until this point, with few exceptions, we’d heard a lot about how dire Buffy’s calling was and how crucial it was to prevent the rising of The Master. In Prophecy Girl, Buffy learns that a prophecy has predicted that she will meet The Master in battle and die at his hands – on the night of the big spring dance. Allowed to shine at last in the acting department, Sarah Michelle Gellar hits it out of the park when she confronts Giles and Angel as they discuss her impending death behind her back, with no intent of letting her in on her fate. “Read me the signs! Tell me my fortune!” Buffy sobs, throwing a book at Giles. It is a defining moment for both characters: Buffy, in that she finally appreciates the stakes (no pun intended) of her calling, and has to grow up; Giles, in that this becomes the first in a long line of episodes where we see his relatioship with Buffy transcends Watcher-Slayer to a more Father-Daughter role, and where he tries to take the risk on for her. It’s also worth noting that considering the resilience of the Scoobies, this is the first time that Willow is truly shaken by death. “They had fun,” she states in pain, while Buffy is helpless to soothe her, distracted by her own imminent demise.
For the show itself, the episode is crucial. Buffy has to die. Before her death (of several minutes), Buffy fears the end of her life, and how soon it might be. After dying and awakening, thanks to the wonder of CPR (prophecies are, as The Master himself notes, tricky), Buffy’s entire attitude and body language change. She no longer hesitates or hangs back just enough to reveal her innate awareness of the fragility of her human body. She’s already died, and survived that. What’s a vampire or demon, now? Without this defining moment of confidence and losing that fear of mortality, how would Buffy be able to face a hell-God, for example? Buffy’s future success and strength of will – and ability to detach, to the point of often driving friends and family away, to get the job done – was entirely contingent on this experience, in my opinion.
This Year’s Girl (Season 4)
Chosen by: Me
Why?: “First of all, this night needs Faith. Second of all, it has intense dream sequences that also foreshadow future events, demonstrating the show’s genius. Last, this episode is the one where we begin to understand that as rotten as Faith can be, we can’t hate her. She’s incredibly traumatized and really, is just looking to be loved and nurtured.“
For my first selection of the night, I went for one of the few episodes of season 4 where Joss and company bring it, 110%. Faith, lying comatose and never expected to awaken, allows us into her psyche through her dreams, while also hinting at things to come. In the first sequence, Buffy and Faith make a bed, with Faith referencing the arrival of Dawn in season 5 (“Little sis on the way…”). The image of a pristine bed, marred suddenly by blood, to me, reflects how Faith’s life derailed after her first Watcher was slain before her, and later, her inadvertent killing of a human. Faith, ultimately, always saw Buffy as a force of good, and in spite of her antics, was still genuinely surprised that Buffy attempted to kill her. “Will you ever take this thing out?” suggests the question is, “Can I be forgiven?” In Faith’s subconscious, the answer is a resounding ‘No’, indicating she cannot be reformed or saved.
The second dream demonstrates why she fell in with the Mayor in season 3: he is her Giles, the father figure she desperately seeks out and craves. He sees a young girl, full of beauty and innocence, untarnished by her flaws, and Faith desperately needs this. As Buffy arrives in the dream to destroy this happiness, it’s symbolic of what she saw Buffy doing to her world.
The third sequence is what I believe to be a fun foreshadowing of season 6, as Faith falls into a grave, pursued by a Buffy that resembles Buffy-bot as dressed in the season 5 finale. Faith then claws her way from the grave, desperately pulling herself free, awakening from her coma to a world she’s been absent from for almost a year – same as Buffy in the season 6 premiere.
The episode itself brings several classic lines of dialogue, from Willow’s description of Faith to Tara (“She’s a cleavagey slut-bomb…”) to Buffy’s mom flipping Faith off (“Are you going to kill me anytime soon?” she dryly notes, as Faith rambles on in angst). It also brings the Mayor, via video, summarizing Faith’s feelings for the last year: she is not part of the world. She is entirely disconnected, and alone in her pain.
Two To Go (season 6)
Chosen By: Suze
Why?: “Because Giles arrives and is the most bad-ass librarian ever, and evil Willow is awesome!“
The three episode arc concluding season 6, one that was sort of hit and miss for me, is intense. Viewers were not given much time to grieve Tara’s death before being left in worried awe at Willow’s transformation in her mission to seek vengeance. Magic addiction back in full force, Willow hunts down the members of the Trio to rain down justice, her anger and mistreatment of her friends reflections of her self-doubt and anger after the discovery of Buffy being ripped from heaven due to her selfish actions.
Two To Go begins right after Willow slaughters Warren in horrific fashion, with Buffy, Anya and Xander working furiously to protect Willow from crossing further into the dark side by protecting Andrew and Jonathan. Up until the end of this episode, Buffy is genuinely not prepared for what she may just have to do: kill Willow. In fact, she is never ready for it, right up until the end. And therein lies her weakness, and why she cannot and does not save the day this time.
One of the best moments of the entire episode is the ending: as Willow stands over Buffy, she crows that no one has the power to stop her, not even The Slayer. With a bitchslap of magic, Giles returns after a prolonged absence, calm and bad-ass slick as he informs Willow that he’d like to test her theory. What was wrong with season 6? For starters, needed more Giles! PWNED!
The Gift (Season 5)
Chosen By: Me
Why?: “Season 5 is my favourite, and this episode is amazing. Plus, it echoes Prophecy Girl and was the pinnacle of the series.“
Season 5 was, to me, the best season of Buffy. After the spottiness and poor execution of season 4’s ‘Big Bad’, season 5 brought it, and then some. Many found the character of Dawn, Buffy’s ‘sister’, to be annoying; I found her to be pitch-perfect. In a sense, being as she was formed from Buffy’s self, I see her as Buffy’s child-side, the side she has had to suppress and not enjoy due to being called as the Slayer. For Buffy, she is forever torn between annoyance at Dawn’s immaturity, and envy, at her ability to simply be a child. That envy also springs a fierce need to protect Dawn, as Buffy tries, in a sense, to protect her humanity and keep from becoming too cold and hardened by slaying.
Every character is bang on and lovable, even Spike. Glory is almost sympathetic at points, Ben even moreso. But what makes this episode is the parallels and closure of the circle from Prophecy Girl to The Gift. The episode opens with a boring, ‘typical’ slaying, as did Prophecy Girl. While in Prophecy Girl, you see traces of fear in Buffy’s eyes, in The Gift, she has become a robot. And yet, as the saved boy calls out, “But you’re just a girl!” Buffy sadly muses, “That’s what I keep saying,” indicating that she still has that sense of ‘unfairness’ about her life. In both episodes, Buffy marches off, expecting to die in a hopeless battle against a foe that seems insurmountable. In both episodes, Buffy triumphs in averting apocalypse, although in both cases, she dies before her foe (Giles kills Ben/Glory; Buffy is brought back by Xander before killing The Master). But whereas her death brought courage to herself in Prophecy Girl, I almost see Buffy as admitting weakness and cowardice as she dies in Dawn’s place, confessing to her sister, “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.” Buffy is saving her innocence, true, but she is also taking a chance to put an end to a life that has grown weary.
When season 5 was launched, Joss and company sensed it could be the end of the series. It was their last year on Fox. The series went out with a bang, and as much as I love moments of the remaining two seasons, the show, as it had come to be known, ended here.
Enemies (Season 3)
Chosen By: Suze
Why?: “We need an episode with Angel with swagger.“
What a fun episode, and one of the reasons why season 3 is my second-favourite. This episode has everything: evil Faith, glimpses at Giles’ not-so-stuffy side, and Angel pwning everyone with his skills. The way he plays, to the hilt, as if he has lost his soul once more and returned to the dark side in order to flush out Faith’s backstabbing is just pure awesome. Faith’s neediness and desire to be Buffy underneath – to be ‘clean’ again – plays out vividly here. So vividly, in fact, that Buffy can’t stand it. In a move foreshadowing the impossibility of the Buffy-Angel relationship, Buffy declares that even though she was in on it, she needs to step back and reflect. This, in turn, leads Angel to the decision to leave Sunnydale in the finale. A turning point of the season, if not THE turning point.
Passion (Season 2)
Chosen By: Me
Why?: “Evil Angelus mindfucks the entire gang. Jenny Calendar meets her tragic end. And ultimately, Angelus’ discourse on passion ruling us all in its varying forms is a mission statement for the entire series.“
For the final episode of the night, I opted for a little season 2 action, selecting an episode that I consider a highlight of the series, in that it reflects upon one of the major themes of the entire series: passion, and how it can drive us or cause us to falter, often to our own peril.
Buffy’s lingering passionate love of the Angel lost when their moment of physical passion ripped away his soul is creating a hesitation within her, an inability to slay him in spite of his vicious ways. Jenny, in turn, is driven by her passion for Giles to try and undo the wrong she has done by not working harder to prevent the disastrous events of Buffy’s birthday. Spike, whose passion lies in Drusilla, is provoked in this episode to the breaking point, where his rage at Angelus leads to him later striking a bargain with Buffy that places them on the same side of the field in a shocking twist of events.
When Angelus leaves Jenny dead in Giles’ apartment, he also triggers a passionate rage in Giles, cementing his active participation in the slaying process and his beginning of his defiant opposition to playing by the rulebook as a Watcher. It’s also a moment of intensity when Buffy sobs at Giles, telling him that she can’t lose him.
As Angelus notes, if we could live without passion, we might find peace. Buffy tries this, in vain, only to realize what the episode preaches all along: your passion is what will save you and push you further than you ever imagined.
Buffy: See? Dust, just like the rest of ’em. I don’t know what’s coming next. But I do know it’s gonna be just like this; hard, painful. But in the end it’s gonna be us. If we all do our parts, believe it, we’ll be the ones left standing. Here endeth the lesson. (Showtime; Season 7)