Thursday, July 23, 2015

BtVS: Ascended: Season 2, Episodes 13-14

Covering “Surprise” and “Innocence,” which I don’t think I need explain.

BtVS is still widely remembered because of “Surprise” and “Innocence.”
            These episodes properly start the Angelus arc (technically, it starts in “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” but really really it starts here), which is where the show’s legend well and truly begins, was burnished, and set into stone. Without them, I feel confident in saying the show would be relegated to a cult, time-capsule curiosity, thought upon, when it is thought upon at all, as being much wittier than anyone expected a show spun off that movie where Pee Wee Herman was a vampire had any right to be. They elevated the show to greatness in perception and actuality, the kind of thing that invites reams of critical theory essays on its psycho and social-sexual feminist statements, or, say, overly ambitious blog projects.
            Shockingly, I think this is the first time I’ve watched them in order, rather than piecemeal. I’ve always known just how important these episodes were, known all the parts and where they go, and, obviously, admired the brilliance. Simultaneously, they are impossibly grand, intensely personal, and universal. Back in season 1, Giles found the idea of a vampire in love with the Slayer rather poetic, but the vampire with a soul losing it when he has a moment of true happiness, and that moment is sex with his love? Not only is that a clever heightening of a story of the fraught world of teen sex, but how could any emotional adolescent girl resist that? Boys are conditioned somewhat differently, but even they have to admire the craft.
            But witnessing them in proper context, with the build and escalation (even if that build and escalation is just a function of existing in the show’s world for a while), really impressed upon me how earth-shattering they are. The end of Angel and restoration of Angelus abruptly occurs without warning (hence “Surprise”), but at the same time, there is a palpable sense that everything has been building to This, and certainly that Nothing Will Ever be the Same. In a lot of ways, this is the story BtVS was made to tell, and the story only it could—at least in this particular way. That’s certainly not to say the show has peaked and everything after this sucks, or even isn’t worth considering—after all, I wouldn’t get into the show for more than two seasons hence and have never done this sort of concentrated viewing of this season before, and I thought it was great and worthy—but the Angelus arc sustains stakes and significance that future arcs and their baddies would achieve with varying levels of fitfulness. And mostly that’s because what Angelus represents is so intensely personal, both in that he was privy to her rawest and most vulnerable moments, and also in the embarrassment and unjust shame Buffy feels as one by one everyone figures out how it was he came to be. BtVS would come to encompass much more, but with Angelus, its role in history was sealed already.
            After a little research, I confirmed my suspicions and determined that these episodes originate the “Buffy and Angel” theme (which is apparently called “Close Your Eyes”). I’m not going to claim to be a connoisseur of either music or soundtracks, my tastes are probably unrefined and cheesy, but I am sensitive to music and soundtracks, and “Close Your Eyes” is notable for being the first memorable and prominent musical cue of the show(truth be told, it's probably a little overused here), and, well have to look out for this, also the only good one of the show’s entire span (the musical doesn’t count, and the score in some later seasons is pretty horrendously bad). Bit of an aside, but notable.
            Just before I began this undertaking, a friend shared the supposition that the show punishes Buffy when she has sex. Even though the show would go on to feature many couples, one of which enjoys a vigorous and inventive sex life, watching a sodden Buffy visibly slump as her lover mockingly throws their physical relationship back in her face, such a reading can be hard to discount. And, to be honest with myself, when I felt the lone wilderness voice in finding the show’s creator a touch dubious, I’d pretty eagerly latch onto this reading. But, and this will be something to keep an eye on as the series progresses, but I’d offer a slight adjustment: the shows makes Buffy having sex consequential. Certainly, there are some massive consequences here, but, well, despite the business with vampires and souls, Angelus cruelly telling Buffy basically she read too much into their experience, using that experience to torment her with feelings of shame and rage, well, a lot of that is sadly true to life.
            I feel the final word on punishment and judgement comes, inevitably, at the end from Giles, in many ways her true parental figure (Buffy clearly loves Joyce, but so much is hidden from her mother that, at this point, Joyce seems almost a riff and a joke on all that worry about parents who treated their children as friends). This, I think, is where his reveal as once Rupert the Ripper really pays off, as he speaks with the authority and wisdom of someone who had a far darker and more dangerous youth than Buffy will ever have, and he uses that wisdom to not only deny her the chiding lecture she obviously thinks she deserves, but to, through that denial, tell her she doesn’t deserve one. “Surprise” and “Innocence” are rough on both characters (much more so on Buffy, obviously, but there is a brief acknowledgement that Jenny’s deception wounds Giles in a different spot, but one no less deep), but even amid all that turmoil, they still find a way to end beautifully. And again, the Buffy and Giles Theory holds true.
            These episodes are so good that Buffy killing a demon with a rocket launcher, as the Judge (played by Brian Thompson, who fought Arnold, Sly, Mulder and Scully, and Buffy herself as he was Luke in the pilots) misjudges how modern weapons are made, and thus averting Armageddon again is relegated to “a good bit” I have to homage in the header image.

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