Thursday, 24 January 2013

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 3.15 & 3.16 – 'Consequences' & 'Doppelgangland'

Thursday, 24 January 2013
Mayor: Well, this is exciting: a Slayer up for Murder One. That's sunshine and roses to me. It really is.

I occasionally bemoan how episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer always involve a supernatural element, so the appeal of "CONSEQUENCES" was seeing an entire episode that didn't. Instead, it explored the character of Faith (Eliza Dushku), her relationship with "adopted sister" Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), how she's perceived by the wider group, and the real-world ramifications of killing a normal man in "Bad Girls". It felt fresh and interesting to have story that didn't morph into monster-of-the-week hokum, and wasn't augmented by the search for an occult antiquity... so, on that conceptual level, this episode clicked for me.

The success of "Consequences" rests on doing something interesting with Faith, who's spent most of the third season (until last week's episode) helping Buffy as a feistier version of the woman she might have become without a mother and Watcher to guide her. Faith's been an enjoyable presence from the start, but only now are the writers actually getting under her skin. As the title makes clear, this hour was all about Faith having to face up to the consequences of her actions—or, more accurately, avoiding the whole issue despite the protestations of Buffy and the disappointment of Giles (Anthony Head), Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Willow (Alyson Hannigan) after trying to shift the blame onto her Slayer-in-arms.

I was actually very surprised by how dark they took things. Faith's gone from staking vampires with a spring in her step and a quip on her tongue, to strangling Xander on her bed and—in the episode's conclusion—deciding to defect to the Dark Side and join The Mayor's (Harry Groener) cronies. It remains to be seen if Bad Faith will be as entertaining as Bad Angel from last season, but I love how it's come about as a result of emotions, irresponsibility, and a difference in ideology instead of a silly gypsy curse. There's no spell that can reverse what Faith's becoming, she'll have to be reasoned with by the people she doesn't believe have her best interests at heart.

Overall, "Consequences" was a very good episode of a season that's somewhat belatedly started to take some risks and stop beating about the bush. Buffy's aware the Mayor is suspicious, Faith's losing her soul, Wesley's (Alexis Denisof) presence is becoming a very awkward problem (considering he's technically on their side, just less inclined to bend his rigid world-view), there was a nice moment with Angel (David Boreanaz) trying to psychoanalyse Faith while she was chained up in his garden hideout, and there were enjoyable hints that Buffy's tempted to lead a reckless lifestyle like Faith. Oh, and we learned that bookish Wesley is attracted to Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), which has immense comic potential.

Anya: I swear; I am just trying to find my necklace.
Willow: Well, did you try looking inside the sofa in hell?

Considering "DOPPELGANGLAND" was written and directed by creator Joss Whedon (usually a sign of higher quality), I was disappointed this episode wasn't more than a fun distraction. I guess we needed a fun caper after a run of mythology-heavy hours, which have been exploring thorny psychological issues, but it's a pity this didn't really stand out from the pack.

This was a sequel of sorts to "The Wish", again featuring demon schoolgirl Anya (Emma Caulfield)—who's trying to regain the powers she lost from a demon called D'Hoffryn (Andy Umberger). This time, with a little help from Willow, they bring the vampire-Willow from the alternate timeline Cordelia experienced into their own present-day. Naturally this causes all kinds of mistaken identity issues, before vampire-Willow sets about trying to turn this version of Sunnydale into a dystopia mirroring her own—by recruiting various vampires working for the Mayor.

It was great to see this episode reference previous adventures, because having a sense of unification in genre shows always helps matters. The return of Anya and vampire-Willow were both appreciated, especially because Alyson Hannigan is infinitely more entertaining when she's being a bad-ass. There was a great deal of fun to be had just watching Hannigan's dual role here, and it goes without saying that the dialogue had that extra pop because it comes from Whedon's mind.

I just don't really see why this episode is held in such a high regard by critics and fans, having heard it's a firm favourite in many people's eyes. I mean, it was a good episode that I enjoyed, but it was also built on the success of "The Wish" (a far superior hour) and the "evil twin" trope that we've seen countless times before. I was also a little confused by the odd subplot with dumb jock Percy West (Ethan Erickson) being tutored by Willow, which didn't really go anywhere very interesting and could easily have been excised. There was also some business with Faith being treated to a luxury apartment by the Mayor, in a transparent attempt to secure her loyalty now she's become his minion, but that was merely a side dish to the main plot.

For me, this was a good episode that was definitely pleasant to watch, but I question why it's been labelled with a near-legendary status by some. Vampire-Willow's fun, but she's not that much fun.

written by Marti Noxon (3.15) & Joss Whedon (3.16) / directed by Michael Gershman (3.15) & Joss Whedon (3.16) / 16 & 23 February 1999 / The WB