Thursday, 29 August 2013

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 4.11 – 'Doomed' & ANGEL, 1.11 – 'Somnambulist'

Thursday, 29 August 2013
Buffy (to Riley): I thought a professional demon chaser like yourself would've figured it out by now. I'm the Slayer. Slay-er. Chosen One. She-who-hangs-out-a-lot-in-cemeteries? You're kidding. Ask around. Look it up: "Slayer, comma, the."

After the illustrious "Hush" ending 20th-century Buffy the Vampire Slayer on a high, it was almost inevitable the next hour wouldn't be as imaginative (with yet another attempt by demons to usher in the end of the world), but "DOOMED" succeeded because the characters and their individual storylines continue to be a lot of fun. I particularly like the new dynamic between Riley (Marc Blucas) and Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) now they know each other's secret; with Riley excited about the prospect of starting a relationship with someone he has something in common with (demon-slaying), and Buffy uncertain she wants to risk a repeat of what happened with her ex-boyfriend Angel. The episode also did a good job of showing how different Buffy and Riley's approaches are as linchpins of their respective "Scooby Gangs": best demonstrated with a clever cut from Buffy's clique reading an ancient mystical text about the creatures they're after, while Riley gave his 'monster squad' a pre-mission briefing in a far more pragmatic way.

"Doomed" concerned a group of demons trying to bring about the end of the world, by reopening Sunnydale's Hellmouth. There was nothing fresh or exciting about their aim, but I appreciated how this resulted in a return to Sunnydale High for the first time since season 3. What surprised me is how the school building didn't recover from the Mayor transforming into a giant serpent and chasing Buffy through its hallways, because the place is still a charred ruin. For some reason I assumed Sunnydale High was still up-and-running, so it was surprisingly emotional to see Buffy, Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Xander (Nicholas Brendan) walking around the ruins of the show's old backdrop.

Like I said, the meat of this week's story wasn't much to write about. What I found more interesting was the fun little sub-plots; like Spike (James Marsters) and his emasculation as a vampire who can't bite, who here suffers the added indignity of having to wear Xander's loud shirts. He cuts an amusingly defeated figure on the show all of a sudden, and Marsters is very entertaining in this unexpected role as one half of an 'odd couple' with Xander. My only issue with Spike is how Marsters' attempt at an English accent regularly slips into Austin Powers-like broadness and he tends to mispronounce Britishisms ('poufe' instead of 'poof''). The writers can take the blame for believing an Englishman's ever told someone to "fag off", however. I always wonder why British actors on US TV shows (Anthony Head in this instance) don't step in to steer the writers away from such mistakes—which are the linguistic equivalent of nails down a chalkboard for real Englishmen like myself.

Overall, while the core of "Doomed" was almost comically run-of-the-mill fare for BtVS, it was buoyed by some nice supporting ideas and moments. Knowing Buffy's role as 'The Slayer' isn't common knowledge and her "fame" only stretches to a few Initiative members thinking she's a myth, was interesting to discover. And the later reveal that Spike can still inflict pain on non-humans, meaning he's incredibly keen to release his pent-up rage on demons was a lot of fun. For the series itself, having someone with 'super-powers' equivalent to Buffy will also close the Angel-shaped hole in the show when it comes to dealing with its supernatural villains, and make things feel slightly more plausible when the Scoobies go into battle.

written by Marti Noxon, David Fury & Jane Espenson | directed by James A. Contner | 18 January 2000

Penn: Well, you were right about one thing, Angelus. The last 200 years has been about me sticking it to my father. But I've come to realise something – it's you! You made me! You taught me! You approved of me in ways my mortal father never did! You are my real father, Angelus.
Angel: Fine! You're grounded!

I had a burst of enthusiasm for Angel after "Parting Gifts" last week, but this was tempered by "SOMNAMBULIST", which didn't capitalise on a fun set-up with Angel (David Boreanaz) having nightmares of murdering young women and carving a cross into their cheeks (as he used to when he was Angelus, the Irish vampire without a soul). These nightmares presented a fun mystery, as real women were appearing around L.A killed in the exact same way, making it look like Angel has been 'sleep-slaughtering'. Strangely, the story then contorted into a far less interesting form when the killer was revealed as Angel's old friend and vampire protégé Penn (Jeremy Renner). The return of Detective Lockley (Elisabeth Röhm), who's involved in catching the serial killer, didn't do much to stoke my enthusiasm, mainly because Röhm's proving to be a weak actress—although I'm glad she's now aware vampires exist and Angel's one of them.

"Somnambulist" presented the well-worn idea of lead character's past coming back to haunt them, with Penn presented as a boyish Satan (dressed in red-and-black sporting a goatee) for Angel to vanquish and make amends for the evil he helped birth. The back-story of Angel is so dark when you stop to consider it (he killed thousands of innocents before having his human soul restore by gypsies), and yet I never find myself all that interested in his torment. Boreanaz was at his best when he was being evil back in the second season of BtVS, so his default role as 'brooding hunk' doesn't really excite me. Angel also can't get as grim as necessary to sell the idea its hero was a despicable monster once upon a time, because the flashbacks just make him look a little ridiculous—running around in a bad period drama with a wig and silly Oirish accent.

It was nice to see a baby-faced Jeremy Renner in an early screen role, however—especially knowing he'll be directed by Angel co-creator Joss Whedon as Hawkeye in The Avengers a decade later. His performance as Penny was actually very good considering the script didn't do a great job making us feel the "father and son" connection between Penn and Angel. That's a great pity, too, because a lot of emotion could have been squeezed from this whole episode if their relationship has been tighter and more resonant. And did I miss something about why Angel was having dreams that suggest he's psychically connected to Penn? Is that an established part of vampire lore for this series?

written by Tim Minear | directed by Winrich Kolbe | 18 January 2000