Thursday, 7 February 2013

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 3.17 & 3.18 – 'Enemies' & 'Earshot'

Thursday, 7 February 2013
Faith: No one can stop the Ascension. Mayor's got it wired, B. He built this town for demons to feed on, and come Graduation Day, he's gettin' paid. And I'll be sittin' at his right hand -- assuming he has hands after the transformation, I'm not too clear on that part. And all your little lame-ass friends are gonna be kibbles 'n' bits.

The end of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's third season is in sight, and I must admit I'm getting a little restless. Half this season felt like an addendum to the second, and while the quality of each episode has generally improved... I just can't shake the feeling season 3's wasted a lot of time and hasn't found a Big Bad half as enjoyable as Spike, Drusilla and Angelus (David Boreanaz) were before. The Mayor's (Harry Groener) masterplan is intentionally kept vague, but the mystery is more frustrating than pleasing. "ENEMIES" was a curious installment, in that I had two distinct reactions to it...

As a story that brought Faith's (Eliza Dushku) treachery out into the open, it certainly had plenty of merit. I still don't think enough groundwork was done to make Faith's decision to join the Mayor feel plausible—it's just vaguely in-keeping with the idea Faith's a reckless and rebellious version of Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar)—but it's nevertheless fun to have a rogue Slayer who's Buffy's physical match. Here, Faith carried out one of the Mayor's orders by removing Angel's human soul and transforming him back into his malevolent "Angelus" persona, which proved so popular in season 2. While it was indeed fun to see Boreanaz back to being a villain again, I must admit this development disappointed me because it felt like another example of the show recycling things that worked from before... almost as if it knows season 3's unique elements aren't up to scratch.

But then, of course, there was the twist. A twist I completely didn't see coming, which arrived at a moment I was envisaging giving this episode an average two-stars. After Faith and Angelus had captured Buffy and were taunting her with the news of their alliance, the rug was pulled and it became clear that Angel was faking his behaviour as part of a stunt to ascertain Faith's loyalty. It even made sense when you stopped to consider everything afterwards, which I was pleased to realise. So in one swoop, much of what I disliked about "Enemies" evaporated. Angel hasn't turned evil again, the gang know a great deal more about the Mayor and his Ascension ritual, and Faith's cover has been well and truly blown. In retrospect, "Enemies" was an enjoyable trick on the audiences... but I still don't really like the Mayor character's gaiety, or the vagueness surrounding his actual master plan. I did enjoy how he treats Faith as if she's his teenage daughter, so hopefully this faux familial aspect of their relationship will continue to flourish. The potential of Faith truly becoming the ying to Buffy's yang (after bagging herself the wicked version of Angel) also offered a few nice love-triangle moments. Plus we got more of Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) making a play for the affections of Wesley (Alexis Denisoff), and an acceptable explanation for why Giles (Anthony Head) is allowed to hang around as a Watcher standby.

Willow: The school paper is edging on depressing lately. Have you guys noticed that?
Oz: I don't know, I always go straight to the obits.

"EARSHOT" found an edgy way to transcend a hoary fantasy trope, as Buffy was blessed/cursed with the ability to hear people's thoughts after being scratched by a telepathic demon during an evening's brawl. Jane Espenson's script seized on the dramatic consequences of being able to hear people's internal monologues; which proved to be humorous and horrendous. And while ultimately nothing new in telefantasy terms, it's still fun whenever BtVS puts its own spin on old ideas. Xander (Nicholas Brendon) trying to think about anything but sex, Wesley having naughty thoughts about Cordelia, Buffy discovering her mother has slept with Giles... there were plenty of entertaining ways for Buffy's telepathy to impact the people around here.

But while I was settling down for a trifling hour of light-hearted fun, I was pleased to see the story suddenly go down a darker path—after Buffy heard a random thought in a crowd mention killing everyone. Suddenly it wasn't a funny episode, but a dramatic search for a would-be killer who might be plotting a high school massacre. A touchy subject in 1999, and unfortunately things haven't changed much in 2013--although Oz's (Seth Green) comment that such tragedies are "borderline trendy" would undoubtedly be cut today. I was actually very intrigued to learn that "Earshot" was yanked from its timeslot and eventually aired in September (during season 4), all because the Columbine High Massacre occurred a week before its intended March broadcast. It's pretty spooky that my BtVS catch-up has reached this episode now, weeks after a similar school shooting in Texas.

Of course, technically "Earshot" wasn't about preventing a high school massacre once a key twist presented itself regarding "the shooter" (a suicidal geek), and the actual villain being a lunch lady and prospective poisoner, but you can understand the uneasiness Fox had. Regardless of the unfortunate scheduling of the episode in 1999, I enjoyed this hour and thought it was a effective time-filler.

written by Douglas Petrie (3.17) & Jane Espenson (3.18) / directed by David Grossman (3.17) & Regis Kimble (3.18) / 16 March & 21 September 1999 / The WB