Monday, October 26, 2015

BtVS: Bronze: Season 5, Episodes 17-19

Covering from “Forever” to “Tough Love,” in which things go back to abnormal.

Joyce was a significant enough character that I can’t really blame the show for devoting two episodes to mourning her passing, especially since “The Body” forced everyone to do so like they inhabited our mundane universe. In “Forever,” the supernatural returns, our vampires pop in to share their thoughts (Angel returns to town simply to console Buffy, while Spike gets busted trying to anonymously leave flowers for Joyce, for whom he seemed to have some genuine affection—she did try to find him mini-marshmallows, after all), and options only available to denizens of such a fantastical universe get considered. After the unconventional artiness of “The Body,” “Forever” is how we’re used to Buffy characters mourning—fighting demonic monsters and attempting to raise the dead.
            The majority of the mourning falls upon the (most) immature shoulders of Dawn, enabled in her reckless, ill-advised plan to violate the natural order of the universe a little bit by Willow and a lot by Spike. And as far as such things go, it’s a pretty good examination of our youngest character’s grief, and Buffy’s as well, and how neither of them think they can continue without Joyce. Problem being, and this is pretty consistently the problem with Dawn, we just don’t care about her like any of the others. We can’t—the fundamental fact remains that we don’t have any accrued history with Dawn, and the one chord she usually gets to play (whining, crying, petulance, and screeching) have been real impediments in getting us to care. Buffy not questioning anything about Dawn’s existence says, I still think, says something laudable about her, but the choice to have everyone else follow suit really leaves Dawn just sort of pointless. They’re pretending they can just give her the sort of story they’d give any other character, and they can’t. We’re always aware that Dawn’s memories are fabrications within the already fabricated fictional word, we know the mother Dawn is mourning was not her mother at all, and while there could have been some potent resonance in considering if Dawn’s feelings are “real,” the show hasn’t done the work to let us do so, it just sort of ignores the question beyond a line or two of dialogue. I want to like “Forever,” but ultimately can’t.
            Ok, I’ve put it off for long enough. Time to rip the scab off. Glory.
            I’ve been praising Spike’s knack for sharing a nugget of incisive truth, and true to form he’s the one who hones in on Glory’s biggest problem. Rising to his mid-torture mockery, Glory asserts that she is a god, and still shining her on, Spike responds “God of what, bad home perms?”
            And that’s the biggest problem—there’s nothing particularly godly about Glory in her mien, demeanor, bearing, appearance, affect, or anything, really. The finery she drapes herself in seems insufficiently fine for a deity, her diction and thinking insufficiently lofty and alien, and, well, while her minions go on about her unearthly beauty, her beauty is merely earthly and, if I can be a pig about it, is outshone by most other actresses in the cast. She has worshippers, but they are neither impressive nor especially competent. There is no pantheon around her, and while you’d think she’d draw the attention of enemies out there in the multiverse, only the very silly Knights of Byzantium actually care. All her godliness ends up meaning is that she needs to be punched harder. Instead of anything interesting, they just came up with more arcane rules about her that needed to be explained, and here it’s the Buffy-bot’s time to shine, summing up everything important about Glory—“She’s a god. She wants the Key.” Apparently Whedon himself has declared Adam the most boring baddie, but you know what? Adam telling Spike that parts of him were a Boy Scout was way better than any of the scenes with the minions fawning over Glory while she screeches about the Key and otherwise does nothing.
            At last, in “Intervention” and “Tough Love,” she does something. She sends her idiot worshipper minions out to spy on everyone in broad daylight, and then at night they mistakenly conclude Spike is the Key, since the Buffy-bot is so intent on him (Buffy herself is off in the desert, learning Death is Her Gift). This is dumb, but at least gives us the chance to enjoy Spike telling Glory exactly what we’re all thinking, and seems to display his valor to something of Buffy’s satisfaction (which she gleans from a fairly baffling plan wherein she pretends to be the Buffy-bot, which…”I guess?” is the best you can say about it). Infuriated by this failure, Glory takes a more active role in the hunt for the Key.
            Her godly intellect leads her to Tara. Because she’s “the newest.”
            See what I’m talking about? Christ. At least the minions were misled by evidence when they came to such a stupid conclusion.
            “Tough Love” represents a Rubicon for both the season and the show. For the season, this comes when Tara, brain-sucked and sent home by a doctor who still fails to think anything is odd about this affliction, identifies Dawn as the Key to Glory, because Glory rips the wall off their dorm room while Dawn and Buffy are visiting, and the light causes Tara to go on about how Dawn is energy and can you tell this is really fucking contrived? Because even by the generous standards I allow this show, it’s really fucking contrived.
            What happens to Tara leads Willow to strike back, especially when Buffy advocates restraint and caution, and so Willow juices up on magic and picks a fight with Glory. This is a pretty huge shift in the show’s treatment of magic into something far splashier and flashier. Granted, the shift has been gradually building, but the moment Willow floated in on Glory and started hucking Chain Lightning like an 11th level Wizard (or 8th level Evoker), there was no going back. It’s the end of Horror magic—evocative, subtle, insidious, dangerous—into Fantasy magic—showy, bold, useful, a different sort of dangerous. The show is a far cry from Amy’s mom stealing her body at this point. Trouble is, this is still a show operating on a fairly limited budget, and most of Willow’s spells come off as goofy rather than either impressive or disconcerting. She breaks a window at Glory, levitates some daggers at her, and turns a rug into a snake to wrap around her ankle—not even an attempt at Power Word: Kill, Time Stop, or Meteor Swarm. It’s pretty ironic that everything Willow got from a book called Darkest Magic feels far less dark and frightening than Amy trying to turn everyone into rats.
            But that’s going to be the way of the show from now on.

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