Thursday, 8 August 2013

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 4.8 – 'Pangs' & ANGEL, 1.8 – 'I Will Remember You'

Thursday, 8 August 2013
Willow: Buffy, earlier you agreed with me about Thanksgiving. It's a sham. It's all about death.
Buffy: It is a sham, but it's a sham with yams. It's a yam sham.
Willow: You're not gonna jokey-rhyme your way out of this one.

This was one of the weirdest episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I've seen in quite some time (certainly this season), and easily one of the funniest. The unfortunate trade-off was a terrible storyline, clichéd villain, and a poor use of David Boreanaz's guest-starring Angel, when it should have been more exciting to watch the first true BtVS/Angel crossover. To briefly summarise the set-up of "PANGS": Xander (Nicholas Brendan) fell into a secret underground chamber and released the vengeful spirit of Hus (Tod Thawley), a Native American of the Chumash tribe, who set about avenging his people's mistreatment across town.

BtVS is a moral TV show, but it sometimes can't help feeling like a sermon. It wanted to make this episode's threat much thornier than usual, because events were taking place during Thanksgiving and right-on Willow (Alyson Hannigan) kept reminding us they're celebrating the near-extermination of an indigenous culture by European conquerors, but it just didn't come together well. The fact Hus was a dreadful Indian stereotype, rather than a noble human being with complex issues of mistrust and anger, didn't help either, and made the episode's constant attempts to make everyone think about America's shameful past all the more troubling.

However, putting aside the dumb villain and its ineffective moralising, "Pangs" ultimately managed to grow into a good episode because Jane Espenson's script was so light-footed and surprisingly funny. It also had plenty of room to play with the ensemble in amusing ways: from Xander discovering Hus infected him with syphilis, to Anya (Emma Caulfield) swooning over Xander in construction worker gear; or Spike (James Marsters) becoming a vampire outcast because he can't kill humans (and later finding himself bound to a chair during a fight, his body stuck with errant arrows); and Buffy fighting a giant black ghost bear. Yes, you read that right. A ghost bear. It was awesome. Or insane. Awesomely insane?

With so much humour and Buffy-branded quips being thrown around, it was doubly annoying the plot and concept was such a damp squib, but the bigger frustration was seeing Angel flounder back on the mother-show—partly because he didn't want anyone to tell Buffy he's back in Sunnydale, but also because the threat to Buffy's life that Doyle (Glenn Quinn) predicted in "The Bachelor Party" wasn't enough of a big deal. That said, there was simply too much to enjoy in watching these close-knit characters interact—even new lovers Harmony (Mercedes McNab) and Spike had a good scene together in his hideout; and this instalment made me cautiously optimistic about Anya's recurring role, given how funny she was here.

written by Jane Espenson | directed by Michael Lange | 23 November 1999

Cordelia: Let me explain the lore here, okay? They suffer, they fight, that's business as usual. They get groiny with one another, the world as we know it falls apart.

Earlier this season, Angel gained the ability to walk around in the daytime as a vampire, but it was an exciting new development that lasted all of five minutes. "I WILL REMEMBER YOU" felt like someone realised they wasted an opportunity, so presented us with a similar alteration to Angel's nature: a restoration of his mortality. This was all part of a big crossover with mother-show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with Buffy herself arriving in L.A to scold Angel for skulking around in the darkness during the events of "Pangs" (which aired immediately before this episode back in '99). Considering the buzz you're expected to feel as a viewer when two shows blend together, I'm surprised and disappointed Angel/Buffy doesn't seem to present audiences with any magic. Maybe it's because Angel doesn't yet have enough of a self-identity, so the introduction of Buffy to its environs just doesn't that odd (compare and contrast to whenever shiny Star Trek The Next Generation crew would appear in the considerably darker Deep Space Nine). It also doesn't help that we're so used to seeing these characters together on BtVS that there's little fun in seeing them do that again in a slightly different timeslot.

The crux of this episode involved Angel being contaminated with the luminous green blood of a Mohra demon (a green-faced Samurai warrior), which resulted in him becoming fully human—which ultimately means he can get a sun tan, eat the entire contents of a fridge, hear his own heartbeat, and snuggle with Buffy eating tubs of ice cream in bed. I wish I could say any of this felt compelling, but I have very little time for the Buffy/Angel romance post-season 2 of BtVS itself. Their story's done, but the writers seem unable to move past it, and that's completely detrimental to the fact BtVS season 4 is trying to make us care about Buffy and Riley (Marc Blucas). How is it a good idea to send Buffy running back into Angel's arms? And while it was marginally interesting to see Buffy happy with a "normal boyfriend", I'm not convinced normality is the missing ingredient for this couple to work. The late twist of human Angel having to slay the Mohra demon, which resulted in time being erased and Buffy forgetting their one day of happiness together, didn't land much of an emotional blow to me either. Am I heartless? Maybe. But I'm so used to those two having tragic outcomes, as it's the default resolution for every major story they share.

I hear this episode's a popular one amongst Angel fans, and probably a major highlight of season 1 by all accounts, but I fail to see what's so great about it. There are many BtVS episodes that did a better job with similar material, so I can only assume its high-ranking in polls is a result of teenage 'shippers skewing the result.

written by David Greenwalt & Jeannine Renshaw | directed by David Grossman | 23 November 1999