Thursday, 15 August 2013

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 4.9 – 'Something Blue' & ANGEL, 1.9 – 'Hero'

Thursday, 15 August 2013
Buffy: Spike and I are getting married.
Xander: How? What? How?
Giles: Three excellent questions.

I think Buffy the Vampire Slayer's generally at its best when it's being silly and playful, which is a big reason "Something Blue" entertained me after threatening to break my spirit with an earnest story tackling Willow's (Alyson Hannigan) post-Oz heartache . It's not that there isn't a place for BtVS to tackle serious issues in a level-headed way, but it's not one of the show's core strengths. Thankfully, Willow soon accidentally gave herself the ability to impose her will on people, which transformed the episode into something much more fun...

Stories where characters get an excuse to act differently rarely fail to entertain me on some level, so having Willow unwittingly make Spike (James Marsters) and Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) fall in love and start planning a wedding was a hoot—and undoubtedly pleased fans who wouldn't mind those characters getting together for real. It's a ridiculous development that would never happen without ruining both characters in the attempt, but anything's possible in the supernatural genre, and so a prime piece of fan-fiction was acted out in a plausible way on the actual show. However, it was disappointing Willow's unintentional chaos wasn't funnier or more interesting away from the Spike/Buffy coupling; with bookworm Giles (Anthony Head) gradually going blind, and Xander (Nicholas Brendon) becoming the demon equivalent of catnip. Both weren't particularly clever or interesting things to explore, but I'm glad writer Tracey Forbes realised this and put most of the emphasis on Spike and Buffy becoming soul-mates... to the mortification of Giles.

There wasn't really much more to this episode beyond a funny romp, although I'm glad Willow's feelings haven't been brushed under the carpet now Oz is out of the picture. Forbes wrote the deplorable "Beer Bad" recently, so this was a decent comeback for her—although, of course, US shows are written by committee so she was simply assigned two stories of differing quality. "Something Blue" didn't make full-blooded use of its potential (Willow had basically given herself godlike control of everyone on the planet!), but it was entertaining for the most part and the Spike/Buffy love affair was an uneasy pleasure.

written by Tracey Forbes | directed by Nick Marck | 30 November 1999

Doyle: Or maybe Cordelia was right about you being the real deal in the hero department. See, I would have chosen the pleasures of the flesh over duty and honour any day of the week. I just don't have that strength.
Angel: You never know your strength until you're tested.

Like many episodes of both BtVS and Angel, "Hero" only developed a heartbeat in the last quarter-hour, once Angel (David Boreanaz) was undercover in a demonic supremacist gang called 'The Scourge', while sidekick Doyle's (Glenn Quinn) secret about being a half-breed demon was revealed to would-be girlfriend Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter). More surprising was how this episode became an abrupt swansong for Doyle, who saved a ship full of half-breed demons from a deadly weapon known as 'The Beacon' by sacrificing himself to disarm it; thus becoming the titular hero of the hour.

I can imagine Doyle's mid-season death being a gigantic shock back in 1999, when such a thing was almost unthinkable, and it still managed to make me raise an eyebrow. (I've been aware a key character of Angel dies in its first season, and there were limited options available, but I still expected it to happen around the finale). Unfortunately, Doyle wasn't someone I cared a great deal about, and that recent episode with his tedious back-story only cemented that feeling. Is he a loss to the show? I'm not sure he is, really; partly because everyone keeps telling me the four Doyle-less seasons to come are a marked improvement. Doyle felt like an 'Irish Xander' who got the plot rolling because of his visions, and little else. Quinn did what he could with a sketchy role, but Doyle's premature death felt like a relief to me... although I'm slightly baffled we wasted nine episodes on a character who clearly wasn't integral to anything.

Killing a regular character halfway through a show's first season is a ballsy move (even today, although subsequent shows have done similar in their first episode), but I suspect Doyle only existed to be killed in "Hero" for experimental 'shock-value'. Or maybe the writers began to realise he wasn't working as part of a trio? I wish "Hero" had been a better episode in general, however, because something as important as killing Doyle should have taken place in a more thrilling context. Don't get me wrong; the Scourge were cool villains on a visual level (militant skeletons with patches of brown skin pulled over their skulls), but they also just another hoary sci-fi Nazi allegory, and I didn't feel invested in the plight of those half-demons the gang were trying to protect from genocide. Cordelia finally discovering Doyle's true nature was also intentionally played down (which was amusing and disappointing at the same time). Apparently this episode is another fan-favourite, so that's two of late I can't get behind.

written by Howard Gordon & Tim Minnear | directed by Tucker Gates | 30 November 1999