Friday, July 24, 2015

BtVS: Ascended: Season 2, “Passion”

Covering “Passion,” in which…

Out of respect, a line of silence and a gif:

            I actually rather like this, and think I should perhaps make it a tradition. Anyway, there will be a bit more eulogizing later.
            Death is much more than just an important element of BtVS. Among some fan circles, much of Whedon’s rep is built upon it. For many, that rep is as a remorseless headsman, willing to ruthlessly cut down any character, at any time, no matter how important. Get attached to no one, for they could meet their end at any moment!
            Eh. That’s way overblown, especially when he gets mentioned in the company of George Martin, the Butcher of Westeros (and sometimes Essos). I mean, that SHIELD guy was important? Come on. Even Jenny, much as I thought she was cool, was only a guest character who never got a story of her own. What he does do, at least for a while in BtVS, and to a lesser extent on Angel, is make death significant and consequential. They are felt. Jenny’s sure is.  This is another thing I’ll be keeping an eye on, but I don’t think any other major baddie will wound Buffy and the gang as deeply as Angelus does here, or come more perilously close to destroying her—certainly, none will do it as richly.
            There’s also a habit among fan circles of playing silly transitive blame games, kicking fault up some chain of events to shift who’s really responsible—you know, like how because Batman doesn’t just kill the Joker, he is the one really responsible for Joker’s carnage. It’s silliness I don’t buy, but I’m sure there are plenty out there that insist Buffy is responsible for Jenny’s death on account that she couldn’t kill Angelus. The situation is somewhat complicated though by, well, Angelus is a vampire, and Buffy is the Slayer of vampires, and, as she acknowledges at the end, she failed to slay him when she should have. Jenny’s murder isn’t Buffy’s fault, but it is a consequence of her not doing her job, one that hurts the key person in her life the most. It’s a sad irony that after cautioning level-headedness in the face of Angelus’ escalation of creepy intimidation, Giles is also the one prompted into reckless action, which for Buffy is the worst case scenario. Actually harming or even killing anyone else would have been painful, to be sure, but as she tells Giles, he is the one she can’t do without.
            Of course, Giles’ rage and Buffy’s resolve invites a thorny question: did Jenny get fridged?
            Shorthanded from comic writer Gail Simone’s “women in refrigerators,” it’s generally agreed that fridging is when a (usually female) character is murdered by an antagonist for the sake of tormenting another (usually male) character, prompting their growth. The fridged character’s death isn’t about them at all, it’s a prop off which another character can stoicly hang rage, honor, failure, resolve—you know, man-feelings, the sort of thing that is best processed in a monastery or a cabin or some other such hermitage. And between Giles’ grief-fueled wrath and Buffy grimly declaring over graves she is at last ready to face her enemies, there’s a lot of man-feelings going on (they’re called man-feelings due to demographics, but women can have them, too), though there is shock and weeping, too.
            I pose this question because I’m pretty sure, again when I was the lone wilderness voice, I may have felt she had been. But that isn’t the case at all. Proper fridge victims have no role in their own deaths, the villain targets them specifically to inflict pain on someone else, and that isn’t the circumstance we see here—Angelus targets her because she is dangerously close to restoring his soul, a project she has undertaken in secret for her own motives (those motives, sure, are to make things right with Giles and Buffy, but still, the motives are hers). What’s kind of ingenious is that Angelus is able to hide all this by presenting her murder as a fridging, an escalation of his campaign to torment Buffy by striking at those around her.
            Dramatically, Angelus had to do something tangible eventually to emphasize that he really was no longer Angel and that he really was evil. Any in the audience confused by the matter find voice in the characters having trouble truly grasping the change—even Jenny tries telling Angelus she has “good news,” in the vain hope there might be some good left in him. And to emphasize that change, the group needed to be hurt. Someone needed to die, someone more significant than Willow’s fish. Apparently, the initial plan was for it to be Oz, which, had they gone with that set up, almost certainly would have been a fridging. I picked up that factoid a few places, and the claim was audience response to Oz changed that course, but the idea is so strange I have a hard time believing it went that far (for one thing, it’s not like Jenny wasn’t beloved—looking for gifs I went through about a dozen Jenny-themed tumblrs). Obviously, however it would have happened, it wouldn’t have been anything close to “Passion.” It’s hard to imagine a coldly furious Willow bashing Angelus with a flaming bat.
            It’s also hard to imagine this hypothetical episode being as powerful, moving, sad, and mournful as “Passion,” which really is amazing, even if it’s painful to lose a charming character and her endearing relationship with Giles. Perhaps the saddest moments aren’t Buffy clocking Giles and begging him to do something so reckless again, but Willow haltingly filling in as the Computer teacher, all alone and very small, but, like everyone, forced to continue on. Willow is the one simultaneously best a soldiering on, but worst at hiding it, and she doesn’t notice the disc (3.5 inches, a real blast from the past), the one that hold the restoration spell, fall from the desk. Jenny’s efforts may yet bear fruit
            She won’t be able to enjoy them, though. Miss Jenny Calendar, a name and a life she seemed to prefer to Janna of the Kalderash, leaves the story here, and we can only hope wherever she ends up in BtVS’s complicated cosmography, Rupert finds her there, and they take in the nitro-boosted funny cars once again.

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