Wednesday, 26 September 2012

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 1.11 & 1.12 – 'Out of Mind, Out of Sight' & 'Prophecy Girl'

Wednesday, 26 September 2012
Cordelia: People who think their problems are so huge craze me. Like this time I sort of ran over this girl on her bike. It was the most traumatizing event of my life, and she's trying to make it about her leg! Like my pain meant nothing!

Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) has spent previous episodes being a one-note cliché as the high school airhead, yet I'm aware she becomes a key part of Buffy's (Sarah Michelle Gellar) gang and, later, a leading cast member in spin-off Angel. It'll be interesting to witness that growth and development, and I assume it begins in earnest with "OUT OF MIND, OUT OF SIGHT". Don't get me wrong, Cordelia remained a walking stereotype of selfish bimbos (I'm only surprised she's brunette), but here she was finally involved in a mystery and got to engage with the other characters more deeply. A belief in the paranormal should also be firmly embedded in her now. That feels like a welcome foundation to build on, as she earns her Scooby Gang stripes.

"Out of Mind, Out of Sight" (also known as "Invisible Girl"—was it changed because the finale's title is similar?) was a good episode that ticked a lot of BtVS boxes. It revolved around wallflower Marcie Ross (Clea Duvall), who was so regularly ignored during her time at Sunnydale High that she literally turned invisible (the Hellmouth proximity is to blame, natch) and has decided to use her newfound power to get revenge on those who never gave her a second glance. It's never explained what Marcie's parents have to say about any of this, but best not dwell on obvious flaws in the show's logic. Like most of the successful episodes this first season, I enjoyed the concept of this hour more than the execution. The idea of an unnoticed person gaining the power of invisibility is a fantastic way to mix the supernatural with recognisable social torture, too. (Indeed, Misfits recycled it a decade later).

But once again the story let things down, as it was rarely surprising and didn't go anywhere very interesting. The only surprise was seeing how Marcie wasn't forgiven by her peers in the end, which is the usual direction stories take with ostensibly sympathetic characters. Instead, Marcie was eventually labelled a lunatic and acted accordingly. I also liked the unexpectedly quirky ending with the FBI (this was made during The X Files' heyday) whisking Marcie away to be trained in the art of assassination and infiltration with other other invisible psycho children. I have no idea if a sequel was ever made to this episode, but I'd love to see one.

This was a fun episode with entertaining moments, but perhaps more memorable for its decision to incorporate Cordelia into an escapade for once. Likewise Angel (David Boreanaz), who returned for a few scenes with Giles (Anthony Head) before helping the gang escape some deadly gas. It was the first time he felt like he doesn't only exist to try and impress Buffy by smouldering in the gloom, but someone who thinks Buffy's clique is worth allying himself to.

Buffy: So that's it, huh? I remember the drill. One slayer dies, the next one's called. I wonder who she is. Will you train her? Or will they send someone else?

The big finale, "PROPHECY GIRL", delivered a slightly underwhelming climax to this season's on-going concern with The Master (Mark Metcalf) trying to break free of his underground lair and usher in earthly doomsday, but I still enjoyed a fair amount of it. This was mostly down to the added richness of some character moments, thanks to creator Joss Whedon writing and directing the whole enchilada. (This Whedon guy has talent, whatever happened to him?) Most of the episodes this year haven't delivered such richness of emotion, meaning everyone often talked and behaved like caricatures of themselves. Naturally, this wasn't the case here because Whedon understands the Scoobies to an extent nobody else rivals

The scene where Buffy overhears Giles and Angel discussing her "certain death", and is swept up by thoughts of her own mortality, was easily a season highlight. All of a sudden, it felt like this vampire-slaying shit really mattered because a teenage girl's life was at stake (keep running into that pun, sorry). I'm just slightly perplexed Buffy's never told her mother (Kristine Sutherland) about her nocturnal activities, but maybe this will be answered at some point in the future.

I liked how events with The Master's return coincided with prom night, if only because it gave us the cool visual of Buffy wielding a crossbow with a flowing white dress; the return of Jenny Calendar (Robia LaMorte) from "I, Robot... You, Jane" was also welcome (even if she's just a sounding board for Giles at the moment); the episode didn't forget that Cordelia's more inclined to interact with everyone without being inexcusably snotty; and the episode had a great deal of fun with an '80s-style multi-headed creature bursting up into the library (created with traditional latex and rubber). Less successful was the unforgivably second-rate use of the Anointed One (Andrew J. Ferchland) after weeks hyping his key role in defeating Buffy (he just leads her to The Master's lair?!), and a slight frustration that The Master wasn't given enough time to set anything close to apocalyptic in motion. Still, his demise after falling onto a makeshift stake was satisfyingly gruesome, and I approved of Buffy's ravishing wet-look while vanquishing him.

This was an entertaining but not especially memorable end my catch-up of a famous TV series in its infancy. The core concept of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is timeless and teeming with potential, while the show was obviously very well cast from then-unknowns. (Anthony Head was probably the biggest name, and that was only due to some coffee adverts.) It's plainly obvious this season isn't Buffy as the pop-culture phenomenon it would became, as the acting's sketchy and the stories aren't too nuanced or engaging. But there are signs of a terrific show itching to get out, with better writers and a larger budget, so I can understand why The WB decided to bring Buffy back with a double order for the 1997/98 season.

written by Ashley Gable & Thomas A. Swyden (1.11) & Joss Whedon (1.12) / directed by Reza Badiyi (1.11) & Joss Whedon (1.12) / 19 May & 2 June 1997 / The WB

That brings us to the end of my Buffy catch-up of season 1. I hope everyone's enjoyed reading my missives, which are more off-the-cuff than my usual reviews. Hopefully a newcomer's perspective on a 15-year-old TV series is of some value and interest to existing fans and fellow newbies. A catch-up of season 2 will now follow on almost immediately (you lucky people!), so stay tuned for more opinions to come...