Thursday, 25 July 2013

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 4.7 – 'The Initiative' & ANGEL, 1.7 – 'The Bachelor Party'

Thursday, 25 July 2013
Spike: I always worried what would happen when that bitch got some funding.

I know we're only seven episodes into Buffy the Vampire Slayer's fourth season, but because I'm also reviewing Angel it seems like events have taken a much longer time to reach this point. So it was even more of a relief that "THE INITIATIVE" finally revealed the secret behind Riley (Marc Blucas) and Professor Walsh (Lindsay Crouse), and the SWAT team that's been glimpsed patrolling Sunnydale U.C all these weeks. Now, confession time: through cultural osmosis, I knew the answer to both questions going into this season. For that reason this episode didn't surprise me in the same way, so I'm not sure how effective these reveals were back in 1999. My guess is quite a few people predicted something along these lines, though.

Still, this was a fun episode that moved the season's concerns along several steps. After his amusing appearance last week, Spike (James Marsters) found himself captured by the clandestine demon-hunting group known as 'The Initiative' and sealed in one of their glass cells in a gleaming white prison for various supernatural creatures, and his consequent outrage and jailbreak was very entertaining. Lots of shows have done their own take on this whole idea since this episode aired, too—most noticeably True Blood in its current sixth season—and I couldn't help but be reminded of a similar 'mass containment of scary beasts' sequence in Joss Whedon's later movie Cabin in the Woods.

"The Initiative" found plenty of ways to keep this episode character-focused, which I was grateful for. In particular it was good to see Riley finally realise he fancies Buffy, after gentle prodding from his best-friend Forrest Gates (a pre-Heroes Leonard Roberts), and take steps towards asking her out on a date. I'm not sure I completely buy the idea that Riley's that shy around girls (and Buffy only seems to be accident prone when the script demands it), but the idea that he's likewise keeping secrets and has a nocturnal role to play was fun. He's a talented demon-hunter who plays at being a teaching assistant by day, and is unaware that Buffy's such a perfect match as the fabled Slayer.

The actual Initiative is a prime slice of hokum, but it's something different that feels quite fresh for the show to deal with. The idea of there being a huge Bond-style lair beneath campus, where folk like Riley are capturing and experimenting on various monsters, is certainly fuel for the imagination. Of course, one assumes there's something more sinister going on, because at face-value it feels like Buffy could just retire now and let The Initiative keep the streets safe at night. Maybe their methods and ethical values will be called into question soon?

It's also worth mentioning the scene where an escaped Spike attacked heartbroken Willow (Alyson Hannigan) in her dorm room and found he couldn't go through with killing her; suffering from the vampire version of impotency, as a result of an inhibitor chip being installed in his brain by The Initiative. Doug Petrie's script juiced a lot of humour from Spike's situation being an analogy for erectile dysfunction, which was well played by Marsters and Hannigan in their scenes together. I hope the treatment sticks, because the show could use some Spike in the mix—especially because Giles (Anthony Head) feels increasingly redundant, and the writers seem overly keen to turn Xander (Nicholas Brendan) into a nerdy basement-dwelling loser all of a sudden.

written by Doug Petrie | directed by James A. Contner | 16 November 1999

Cordelia: Hi, Doyle. Are you gonna become loser pining guy, like, full time now? 'Cuz, you know, we already have one of those around the office.

Only last week I was ruing the lack of back-story for Irish half-demon Doyle (Glenn Quinn), so along comes "THE BACHELOR PARTY" to potentially put me at ease. Unfortunately, it turns out Doyle's past is so uninteresting I now wish Angel had flat refused to explain some of his back-story, so I could instead theorise any one of a hundred scenarios more interesting than what writer Tracey Stern came up with.

Just as Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) is beginning to realise Doyle has potential as a boyfriend, along comes his estranged wife Harriet/Harry (Kristin Dattilo) and her husband-to-be Richard (Carlos Jacott) to ask for a quick divorce. It turns out Doyle was a teacher and his relationship with Harry ended when she discovered he was a half-demon, although the events of this episode later reveal Doyle's outing actually made her reconsider the world because Richard himself is a demon and demonology's become her forte.

I really struggled to find the good in this tedious effort. The twist revealing that Richard didn't have evil intentions towards Harry was decent, and there was a hilarious scene of Cordy bashing the demon-faced Doyle over the head with a silver tray because she still doesn't know his secret, but the rest was various degrees of awfulness. There was just too much about this whole idea that didn't sit right with me. Why would Harry bring her current boyfriend along to meet Doyle? Why would Harry invite Cordy to her bridal shower? Why would Doyle agree to go to Richard's bachelor party? It all felt very unlikely, but a necessity for the story to unfold. And while the idea that Richard wanted to harvest the brains of his fiancé’s "past love" had some merit, the way it was executed left a lot to be desired.

Overall, "Bachelor Party" was a big misfire and didn't do anything to help Doyle's situation as a thin character playing third fiddle to the show's other leads. It was uninspired and didn't do anything to make you care about Doyle's life before joining Angel Investigations, or his relationship with Harry (which also suffered because Quinn and Dattilo had very little chemistry together). You have a smart, mysterious, half-demonic Irishman on your cast and this is the episode you choose to showcase him and let us into his secretive past? A let-down.

written by Tracey Stern | directed by David Straiton | 16 November 1999