Friday, July 31, 2015

BtVS: Reanimated: Season 3, Episodes 1-3

Covering from “Anne” to “Faith, Hope, and Trick,” in which everyone struggles to pick up the pieces, except for the show.

In the past, the distant past, I’ve asserted that season 3 is BtVS’ best season. Unfortunately, that past is distant enough that the specific reasons why I felt so are lost to time, and right now, so freshly off the Angelus arc, which so much of the show built to and gave it so much identity, probably its most personal story, I’m having a hard time thinking season 3 will somehow be better. BtVS is such a chaotic show anyway, it feels a little silly to proclaim one season is “best,” not least because shouldn’t something’s best be representative? I’m not sure any season could be representative, there are too many factors to weigh. What I am willing to say right now, is that I’m pretty sure season 3 is the most consistent. Looking over the episode titles, there’s really only one I’m not particularly looking forward to.
            While I said seasons mostly divide the arcs, and that’s mostly true, the Angelus arc isn’t quite done yet. There’s not anyone trying to finish what he started, or some plot around his bones or anything, but Buffy still has to deal with what she did, and what she did because of what she did. And the show deals with all that deliberately, so deliberately the opening episodes of season 3, “Anne,” “Dead Man’s Party,” and “Faith, Hope, and Trick” feel like a three-part premiere. Or, more accurately, they feel like much more modern serialized episodes, moving step by step until the show settles back into the status quo. They serve as a sort of counterpart to “When She Was Bad,” which led off season 2, but with everything given more breathing room.
            In the heady rush of these early seasons, I’ve been frequently reminded of the things I love about BtVS—colorful characters, the cleverness, the wit, and so on. But, while “Anne” is pretty good, it also reminded me of something I came to very much not like—Buffy staring into the middle distance while sad music plays because she is sad. Not that she shouldn’t be sad or suffering, but she and those states are much more compelling when she’s in them with or around someone, or when those states are influencing her actions. To the credit of “Anne,” it doesn’t lean too hard on the sad music while Buffy walks sadly, and gives her someone to play off almost right away. There’s never much threat that Buffy will fail to find herself again (though had the show started a few years later, they may have risked extending Buffy’s LA exile for a bit longer), but it was important to see her in this state, both for the sake of her story, and because her absence forced her friends to fill the void as best they could. And given the episode’s urban fantasy milieu, I’m pretty sure it led to Angel.
            “Dead Man’s Party” deals with Buffy’s difficulty reintegrating with her friends, a problem foreshadowed in “Anne” when Xander and Cordelia aren’t certain how to deal with each other after a summer away, climaxing with a full blown fight. With the Angelus story unrepeatable, it was important for the show to expand its canvas, and having the gang take up arms in Buffy’s absence plays an important part in that expanding, giving Xander and Willow and Cordelia and even Oz larger roles—Willow’s initial argument with Buffy has her essentially declare that she has a story too. As with Buffy’s exile, there isn’t much risk that the Scoobs are breaking up, and indeed, once the danger begins they quickly put their issues aside and unite again. Still, there is something of a twinge of sadness to their reconciliation—shouldn’t they have been able to fix their strained relationship without a zombie assault?
            All that remains is to return to slaying and, somehow, move on from Angel.
            Well, she has to get back into school, too, but that happens mostly off-camera because, while Snyder probably has some opinions to make this otherwise that will make him a darling GOP presidential candidate, in 1998 and today, in America you’re entitled to an education. Anyway.
            Not that she needed much help or prompting in returning to general ass-kickery and fighting, the actual act of slaying, but rather she had to return to her role and status as the Slayer, a resumption that’s considerably complicated by the latest chosen one in the fragmented Slayer line arriving. Yes, in many ways season 3 properly begins here, because Faith has come to town, and just a quick clothing note, she’s basically dressed like Letty in The Fast and the Furious, so she may end up complicating my ugliest outfit theory, too. While Kendra presented the traditional alternative to Slayer life, Faith is much closer to Buffy’s experience, but, well, she’s cool. She’s got a lower class edge and earthiness, but she’s also quite pleasant and good-natured with everyone. And with her stories of cross-country adventure, and awkward naked nighttime rescues, she presents an even more striking contrast to Buffy given what she is dealing with—Faith is unconflicted. Faith’s hardest kill, she claims, involved an epic battle against the vampire lord of Missouri and his alligator minions, while we all saw what Buffy’s hardest kill was and what it did to her.
             And the memory of that hardest kill keeps interfering with Buffy’s desire to get back on the dating scene with perfect boy Scott Hope, on top of everything else.
            Naturally Faith isn’t as unconflicted as she seems—she’s actually on the run from a grudge-bearing ancient vampire she was unable to prevent from horrifically murdering her Watcher, an event that scarred her so much she crumbles to near uselessness in his presence. It’s her own, distinct trauma, but puts her on a similar emotional plane as Buffy, who also crumbled to near uselessness due to trauma, which leads to Buffy gleaning an insight for the both of them—a Slayer’s number 1 strategy, “Don’t Die.”
            I found Faith’s terror of Kakistos quite convincing. BtVS has obviously struggled making ancient vampires particularly convincing, as seen in the Three (name-checked here perhaps meta-ly blown off) and, well, the Master, but Kakistos is animated with an eldritch malevolence that effectively sells him and keeps him scary long enough for him to get killed. By virtue of sauntering away to fight another day, Mr. Trick is more significant. He’s not quite as instantly cool as Drusilla and Spike, but his business-minded, proto-tech sector hustler persona is solidly compelling and interesting (he also calls out Sunnydale on its lack of diversity).
            But despite appearances, the “Trick” of the title is not Mr. Trick. Rather it’s the trick Giles pulls on Buffy, getting her to actually talk about what happened in the fight with Angelus and admit that he was Angel again just before she had to kill him. Having done so, she thinks she’s actually ready to move on with pretty Scott.
            Angel reappearing in a flash of light won’t complicate that at all.
            I’m not kidding, it will actually be pretty smooth, all things considered.

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