Wednesday, August 12, 2015

BtVS: Hundred Days: Season 3, “Bad Girls” and “Consequences”

Covering unlabeled two-parter “Bad Girls” and “Consequences,” in which this river becomes an ocean and hearts are thrown back on the floor.

I now fully remember the virtues of season 3—while it digs deeply into authority and institutions and their relationship to us as individuals, the deepening of non-Buffy characters benefits the season as well, making things much more complex. While season 2’s equivalents “Surprise” and “Innocence” are probably more resonant and deeper, these feel so rich and complicated. Everyone has so much more going on, giving them different levels and types of investment in what begins as the gang blundering into a century-old feud between the Mayor and corpulent demon Balthazar’s vampire cultists and ends with a dead (supposed) civilian. And while Buffy remains key (she’s the main character, after all), everyone’s reacting to her foil, Faith. So they think, anyway. It’s actually all about themselves.
            Before the unfortunate manslaughter, the events of “Bad Girls” are a pretty direct reaction to the crumbling of authority this season, which becomes critical when newly appointed Watcher Wesley arrives, and I have to say, it’s breathtaking how much they manage to make him suck, such that any natural sympathy we may have for someone trying to awkwardly assimilate with the cool kids is instantly forgotten. He’s just everything—officious, hide-bound, condescending, clueless, inept, stuffy, naïve, and a coward on top of all that. While he unwisely dubs himself Buffy and Faith’s “Commander,” his general suckitude leads pretty directly to the increased recklessness from Faith, who takes Buffy along for the ride of escalating misbehavior, basically reveling in the fact that no one can actually tell them what to do. The misbehavior itself doesn’t actually lead to the dead guy, they’re both more symptoms of the aforementioned recklessness.
            “Consequences” rather ruthlessly undercuts expectations. Faith’s hiding of the body lasts long enough for Buffy to take a nap. Her pinning the blame on Buffy doesn’t even last a scene. The episode, like everyone she knows, is forcing Faith to confront what she did, to face the…uh…ramifications.
            But no one is quite sure exactly how they should handle Faith’s act, and they have a multitude of reasons and motivations, and even roles in the story. While Willow and Xander had important key scenes in the season 2 episodes, they were more than a little shackled to Buffy. Really, the supportive best friend (probably too supportive in hindsight) was sort of all Willow could be. Xander is preordained to be the jealous jerk. But both have been allowed to branch out considerably in season 3, and are a bit better equipped to stand on their own in sustaining their own stories. Willow resents Faith (and, for a change, offers the hardline perspective) for both her role in Buffy’s life, but also the discovery of her role in Xander’s life. And Xander believes he has a connection with Faith, because, well, he does. Buffy doesn’t think so, though, being all too familiar with how Faith talks about men. But how much of that is just because Buffy is not particularly comfortable with Faith’s free-wheeling ways? And meanwhile, Giles struggles to navigate his marginalized position, and so on, and so forth.
            Wes’ actions take most of the blame for pushing Faith to the dark side, and with good cause—getting arrested by the Watcher’s Council was probably her worst-case scenario. Everyone plays a part, though, because all the well-meaning interventions aren’t actually about Faith, they’re about the intervener. Buffy’s a fearful, guilt-ridden mess, in a near panic every time she tries to talk to Faith about what happened, while insisting she understands what Faith is going through, even though it’s obvious from their demeanors (if nothing else) that isn’t so.
            It’s tough to separate how much of Xander’s appeal to Faith is genuine belief they have a connection and how much is the appeal of being her White Knight (I tend to think 50/50). For his presumption he gets, well, sexually assaulted is probably going a bit too far, but there is a sexual component to the assault she gives him. Regardless, any connection he had with her he may have had (she was asking Buffy about him in the beginning of “Bad Girls,” after all, though like a lot of things with Faith, it isn’t clear why) is useless when he absurdly volunteers as a character witness in court.
            Despite the insistence that he was getting somewhere with her, I think Angel actually comes off as the most ridiculous here. His creepy paean to how great murder is does little but raise concerns as to just how effective that soul is, it doesn’t speak at all to how we’ve see Faith process things. Fortunately he pulls out of this tailspin, and may have actually been achieving something by appealing to their shared negative view of human nature and how Angel at least overcame that view by witnessing the genuine decency of the Scooby Gang (he says “the people here,” but he really can’t be talking about the people of Sunnydale at large), but Wes and the Council toughs intrude before Faith can do much more than look skeptical.
             But what does Faith think? She remains opaque throughout, which ends up assisting everyone in hanging their own narratives off her. And we’re included in that opacity, which is pretty off-putting given how bad everyone on this show is at keeping their feelings more than a layer below the surface. Instead, we subsist on scraps. At first, she attempts to put the death in perspective—one accident balanced against the many, many lives they’ve saved, which is of a piece with her philosophy that Slayer’s both are and ought to be above the law (a philosophy Buffy finds appealing but rejects after the death, even though it isn’t too far off from the more tempered response of Giles that in the war against evil, tragic accidents happen. As usual, Giles come off the best), but she quickly shuts down once Buffy’s terror is clear. How much remorse was she feeling when she returns to the body, and how much were her failings on her mind when she picked up the picture of Mayoral Assistant Alan Finch she found? Was there something wrong with her all along that drove her to the Mayor’s office?
            I think she just decided if everyone was going to treat her like the bad guy she might as well act the part.

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