Covering from “Lie to Me” to “What’s My Line?, Part Two,” in which visitors come to town, the show tries its first epic, and we end up missing the nitro-burning funny cars.
OK, so, maybe it was best to not talk about “Halloween” among this batch of episodes, even though “Halloween” through “What’s My Line?” represents a considerable hot streak. “Halloween” is a (mostly) light, frothy fun where a little kid demon chokes an old lady and a soldier fights a pirate, while the two that follow, “Lie to Me” and “The Dark Age,” are, appropriately, the darkest the show has yet done, both forcing Buffy to grow up considerably before the show follows suit with its first 2-parter.
I feel like jumping to the end first, because while “What’s My Line?” isn’t especially deep, the pair of episodes is incredibly important. You see, back in the olden days, multi-part stories were a big damn deal (they probably still are, just not in anything I watch), times when shit really went down. It’s when Captain Picard became a Borg, Mulder and Scully found the Black Oil, and the Moya crew had to knock over a Shadow Depository. The question always had to be asked, though, whether the show in question could handle the larger canvas. “What’s My Line?” is important, simply because it showed BtVS could. It’s certainly eventful, as it pushes Buffy and Angel together, pushes Xander and Cordelia together, lets Willow finally meet Oz, layers the underworld a bit with Willy the Snitch and the Order of Taraka, flips the power positions of Drusilla and Spike, and introduces us to Kendra the Vampire Slayer.
Kendra represents more of the show’s playfulness with prophecy—when a Slayer dies, the next Slayer inherits the title, and Buffy was dead for a couple of seconds. She also gives us a clearer window into the lives of traditional Slayers (which is to say, limited), and lets Buffy worry that she might disappoint her father figure by comparison. Has to be said, though, Kendra spends so much time struggling with her accent, she never quite finds how to emote properly.
But before the show displayed it was grown-up enough for epics of villainous rituals, skating interludes, hate-macking, worm assassins, and dive bars, Buffy herself does some unpleasant growing up first.
“Lie to Me” is, among other things, a pretty straight up repudiation of a lot of YA dreck vampire romanticization, openly mocking the deluded self-loathing of the vampire cultists who believe the “Lonely Ones” will greet them with anything but ravenous contempt. But it’s also openly mocking of the deluded self-righteousness of Ford, Buffy’s former BFF, a chicken-hearted little ninny desperately trying to give his life story beats even if they’re obnoxiously cliché, who mistakenly thinks dying, a pretty common human condition, gives him the ultimate moral trump card.
I’m sure there are plenty of viewers who look at Diego and Chanterelle and see the nadir of modern geekery, Twilight fans, but while I don’t really think highly of that aforementioned romanticization, they’re just sad and misguided. I see the real nadir in Ford. See, in addition to his unearned smugness and idiocy, he’s also meta, but is so in a vapid, uncritical way. His insistence that Spike hew to a hoary cliché of a villain bit for no particular reason other than to create a simulacrum of the movies, shows, and comics he’s consumed, with no commentary, criticism, or even modification strikes me as the real nadir of the culture.
This week, I read a bunch of people saying the new Terminator was fine because the robots fought good, OK?
Even as her old friend is presenting himself as untrustworthy, her newest friend and possible paramour isn’t making himself a paragon of trust either. Granted, Angel isn’t plotting to sell Buffy to her enemies, and there’s an argument to be had about how much information she is entitled to (on the one hand, Angel’s history with Dru is his business, but on the other hand since Dru is a vampire, it’s Buffy’s business, too), his shiftiness and the confession that she is a walking reminder of his most evil impulses place an understandable strain.
Her realizations on the complicated issue of reliability in the adult world continue in “The Dark Age,” but for the first time she has to share the spotlight in a significant way (you can make the case for “Inca Mummy Girl,” but I’m not), because as much as it’s a story about Buffy and Giles, it’s also a story about Giles himself. And fittingly for the show’s first episode devoted to an adult, it feels like a much more adult horror movie than the goofy creature-features that are the show’s typical purview—even though there are creatures. It’s all paranoid isolation, hushed and freighted conversations, dark secrets dragged into sight, relentless consequences, sly possessions, and a pervasive atmosphere of dread and powerlessness.
It will surprise no one to see me say I like cerebral takes, but it’s true, and thus I think powerlessness is the most brutally effective emotion to be evoked in horror. Here, Giles’ inability to find a way to deal with Eyghon, short of a terminal act, sends him into an obsessive, drunken spiral, even as the consequences of summoning the demon, in both the demon itself and his association with Ethan (I don’t have much to say about Ethan Rayne himself except for the obvious—he’s fun, a great foil for Giles, and a delight every time he shows up such that I wish the show had used him more) nearly destroys everything he holds dear.
BtVS isn’t quite so bleak as to make Giles’ situation actually unsolvable. As you might expect from a show about high schoolers battling evil, when the adults they rely on falter, they have to step up. It’s nice to see how quickly and efficiently they do so, and even pretty of sweet how Cordelia eagerly awaits her assignment because, as she says, she cares about Giles like the rest of them. Also not entirely a shock that Willow, gleeful after realizing the Mark is, in fact, Etruscan and not Egyptian, has the lateral-thinking idea that destroys the demon without decapitating any fetching computer teachers.
Buffy is, of course, the one leading the charge, defying orders to stay out of Giles’ business not out of stubbornness, and offering the sort of calm, centered reassurance she usually receives. Giles himself gets roused when he realizes Ethan has managed to make Buffy a shield, similar to how he was ready to charge into Spike’s siege to her aid. This protective desire runs both ways, though, and they end up almost comically flinging themselves in front of the other in the demon’s path until Willow’s plan works.As always, order is only partially restored. Jenny needs time and space to deal with her experience (fair enough, she did get pretty possessed). Buffy, though, is there for Giles bright and early with a new batch of awful music for him to get all crusty about. It's not the sort of rapport Kendra and her Watcher have, but it works for these two.