Thursday, 12 September 2013

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 4.13 - 'The I in Team' & ANGEL, 1.13 – 'She'

Thursday, 12 September 2013
Buffy: Why exactly can't we damage this Polka thing's arms? I mean, n-not that I want to. It's just, in my experience, when fighting for your life, body parts get damaged. And better its bits than mine.

I really like how "THE I IN TEAM" didn't waste any time advancing the plot far beyond what I expected it to, concerning what's behind The Initiative's mysterious Door 314 and the intentions of Dr Walsh (Lindsay Crouse) when it comes to new recruit Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar). As I mentioned last week, I already knew that Door 314 contained a 'Frankenstein's Monster' called Adam, harvested from an assortment of demons the commandos have been rounding up, but that didn't spoil my enjoyment because it wasn't such a big secret. The only thing I found frustrating about this hour was trying to fathom the motivations of Walsh in wanting to kill Buffy, seeing as having a Slayer on your team is such an obvious boon. Maybe she just dislikes her? Or believes she'd never see the virtue of their secret chimera? Maybe things will become a little clearer next week, but it feels like the writers could have done a better job explaining Walsh's thought processes.

It was fun seeing Buffy get the grand tour of The Initiative complex, with the scene of her entering Riley's (Marc Blucas) workplace and marvelling at its size being given a sexual connotation. The Initiative is essentially Riley's biggest secret and allowing Buffy into his inner sanctum came with all the thrill of disrobing in front of her. He's that kind of guy. Later there was a scene that mixed shots of Buffy and Riley fighting a Polgara demon with a subsequent sex scene, which felt like a homage to a similar moment in Out of Sight between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez. When sexual foreplay is killing a demon for its precious forearm spikes, you know your relationship's an unusual one. And yet it's healthier than anything Buffy experienced with Angel, because Riley was conspicuously present in her bed the following morning.

If nothing else, this episode confirmed Riley's an honourable and trustworthy guy. After Walsh failed to murder Buffy by sending her into a sewer with a faulty weapon to face two demons by herself, Riley realised the awful truth about his boss when Walsh's lies about Buffy's 'accidental death' were exposed by Buffy herself appearing on a monitor, victorious in the face of the adversity. I was primed to see the show switch to having Buffy and Riley team up to bring Walsh to justice, but then the episode threw up another surprise by having Adam awaken and kill his "mother". So just as Walsh was unmasked as a cold-hearted bitch with questionable ethics, she's been dispatched and it looks like Adam's now the season's Big Bad. I'm not sure how The Initiative are going to react to having a top-secret experiment run riot, but one would like to think they'll abandon the facility and help Buffy stop this man-made monster's inevitable rampage.

As I said, the only things that dragged this episode down was vagaries about people's motivations. I assume Adam was being created to become the ultimate demon-slayer for The Initiative to utilise, which possibly means Walsh hated Buffy because she represents the perfection she's been striving for with Adam... but that's just a guess. And I have no idea why Adam would want to kill Walsh, if he perceives her as his "mommy". There's a history of man-made monsters turning against their creator, of course, but none of that had been earned here. I was also disappointed Walsh was written out already, if she's just going to be replaced by a hodgepodge Hulk.

Elsewhere, there wasn't much to get very excited about. Xander's (Nicholas Brendan) started selling nutritious snacks to make money, confirming the writers have no idea what to do with him this season; Willow (Alyson Hannigan) is finding a better friendship with Tara (Amber Benson) than Buffy's providing just lately; and Giles (Anthony Head) continued his tetchy relationship with Spike (James Marsters) after he was shot by a commando tracer and chased around Sunnydale all night.

While the surrounding sub-plots weren't too great, "The I in Team" had such a strong core with Buffy, Riley and the truth behind Dr Walsh's research that I really didn't care. This episode was a pivotal one for season 4's mythology, too; together with the Buffy/Riley romance, which continues to alienate her from her friends.

written by David Fury | directed by James A. Contner | 8 February 2000

Wesley: Perhaps we need a plan.
Angel: Here's the plan: we go in, I start hittin' people hard in the face. See where it takes us.

Marti Noxon makes her Angel début, co-writing "SHE" with David Greenwalt, but while there was plenty to enjoy about this episode's tone and the performance of guest-star Bai Ling, it failed to develop into something that truly impressed me. It was a missed opportunity for a story that felt like a Star Trek morality tale.

One thing I've criticised about Angel is how it doesn't feel especially edgy or dangerous compared to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but "She" was the first episode that felt like it was doing something I can't imagine BtVS doing quite so well. The idea of a refugee demon princess called Jheira (Ling) arriving in L.A to escape the patriarchy of her own dimension, where women like herself have their spinal 'ko' removed, thus rendering them sexually and physically docile, was certainly very interesting. It had obvious parallels with the real-world issue of female genital mutilation across Africa, and if nothing else it was refreshing to see Angel tackle a adult subject like this through a fantasy medium. It's exactly the kind of thing shows like this should be doing more often.

And if you missed the grim allusions of the episode, it was still enjoyable just to watch Angel encounter a woman who's equally as capable, attractive and brooding. Boreanaz and Ling worked well together as a duo, and there were some very memorable moments littered through the hour: from Angel being asked to dance by a gorgeous woman at a party, only to decline after imagining himself 'dad dancing' in front of everyone (a scene so funny it was reprised for the credits), to a great moment when Angel evaded art gallery security by pretending to be a curator and impressing art lovers with his knowledge of Édouard Manet and Charles Baudelaire. It was an eye-opener just to realise Angel is very intellectual when he wants to be!

Unfortunately, as Angel got noticeably smarter during this episode, for some reason esley (Alexis Denisoff) is going in the exact opposite direction. I don't mind Wesley being comic relief because he's such a bumbling square, but "She" also presented him as a sycophantic moron. It's like the writers have totally forgotten Wesley was once a top-class Watcher tasked with taking care of The Slayer, and he's now just hanging around to brown nose Angel. It's funny realising Wesley would love to be as cool as Angel, but seeing him bend over backwards to ingratiate himself with Angel just demeans his character in my eyes. In an episode about the removal of backbones, how ironic that Wesley completely lost his.

written by Martin Noxon & David Greenwalt | directed by David Greenwalt | 8 February 2000