Thursday, 19 September 2013

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 4.14 - 'Goodbye Iowa' & ANGEL, 1.14 - 'I’ve Got You Under My Skin'

Thursday, 19 September 2013
Spike (to Buffy): Gotta hand it to you, Goldilocks. You do have bleedin' tragic taste in men. I got a cousin married to a regurgitating Frovalox demon that's got better instincts than you.

Something of an adjustment episode now Professor Walsh has been killed by her own creation, the modern-day Frankenstein's Monster known affectionately as Adam (George Hetzberg). "GOODBYE IOWA" involved everyone trying to fathom what's going on, as feeling of paranoia and mistrust bubbled up. In particular, Riley (Marc Blucas) began to suspect his girlfriend Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) was responsible for killing Walsh, nudged along by the theorising of best-friend Forrest (Leonard Roberts); and even Buffy had a moment of doubt when it looked possible her boyfriend Riley was involved in Walsh's plot to kill her.

Naturally, most of this was ironed out before the hour was over. It may have been nice to spend a few episodes with the battle lines drawn between Team Buffy and Team Riley, but perhaps it wouldn't have been very plausible if the highly-trained Initiative came off second best. They may not be as bright, but they the brawn and resources to pose a bigger risk than high-kicking Buffy, bookworm Giles (Anthony Head), Willow (Alyson Hannigan) the self-taught witch, wisecracking Xander (Nicholas Brendan) and Spike (James Marsters) the demoralised vampire.

"Goodbye Iowa" came with a few surprises that added some new strands to the season's mytharc, which was nice. Riley appears to be something of an early experiment of Walsh's, as he's been fed special medication that makes him strong (resulting in him now growing sick without his drugs); and this in turn makes Riley a "brother" to the bigger threat of Adam. That makes things a little more personal than I was expecting, and seeing Riley realise his mentor and "mother figure" was actually a mad scientist was one of this episode's better pleasures. Adam himself is a visual treat with his mix of demon, human and robot body-parts, and there's added humour so many years after broadcast in the fact Adam has a floppy disc drive installed in his chest.

Some of the Frankenstein allusions are a little too obvious for my tastes, making you wonder why these pop-culture crazy characters haven't mentioned the similarities themselves. A scene where Adam met a young boy playing with a cyborg soldier before killing him off-camera, was a clear nod to a similar scene in Mary Shelley's novel where the Monster comes across a little girl playing by a lake.

Not too much really happened in "Goodbye Iowa", but it was a necessary episode to get everyone on the same page about Walsh's true colours and the presence of Adam (a cyborg determined to understand its own existence, even at the cost of others). Blucas was great throughout this episode, presenting us with a version of Riley who wasn't as cool, calm, and collected as usual. It was nice to see the actor get to play something more subtle, and Riley's decline in health was the best part of the episode in many ways. I'm also glad Adam isn't just a mindless brute, although a big part of me suspects his quest for "the meaning of life" will get tedious very quickly. This whole area has been explored countless times in fiction, so I have very little interest in yet another version—especially as Adam's so heavily inspired by Frankenstein.

written by Marti Noxon | directed by David Solomon | 15 February 2000

Wesley: A little Silas Eucalyptus Powder ingested by the host...
Cordelia: Then what? Dad goes "grrr"? Head spins around?
Wesley: Essentially.

Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are both of their time, but occasionally you get an episode that reminds you what you're watching is 13-years old. "I'VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN" tackled the horror trope of demonic possession and, beyond a twist in the tale that perked things up slightly towards the end, it was largely an embarrassing and completely non-frightening affair.

Cordy's (Charisma Carpenter) baked some unpleasant brownies before getting another vision, that takes Angel (David Boreanaz) and Wesley (Alexis Denisoff) to an idyllic suburban neighbourhood to meet the Anderson family—father Seth (Will Kempe), mother Paige (Katy Boyer), and their kids Ryan (Jesse James) and Stephanie (Ashley Edner). One of them is possessed by a Ethros demon (Anthony Cistaro), and naturally the finger of suspicion falls on the cute blonde boy—despite the best efforts of the script to make Seth appear very creepy in his own right. From there, the whole thing descended into a lazy and monumentally dull Exorcist variant—only without delivering a single scary moment, but instead eliciting laughter because it was all so clichéd and unconvincing. Nobody's expecting a small-screen Exorcist on The WB, but "I've Got You Under My Skin" was shockingly inept. The scene where Ryan's 'demon-face' revealed at the dinner table suffered from horrendous CGI, the make-up for the possessed boy looked like someone just smeared grey paste over his face, and someone made the bizarre decision to use a voice modulator for the demon (which made the entity as scary as one of the Goa'uld from Stargate).

The aforementioned twist just about kept this episode palatable, as it was revealed the demon itself was the victim of being trapped in the brain of a callous sociopath. In retrospect, both BtVS and Angel commonly subvert expectations when they're dealing with clichés of the genre, so one perhaps should have predicted where things were headed. Sadly, it didn't lead anywhere very interesting. Ryan tried to burn his sister alive while she slept, but Angel saved the day by rescuing her through a bedroom window. I did a little bit of research on this episode, and apparently Joss Whedon came up with the twist concerning the boy being the greater evil, so lord knows how bad the original draft of Jeannine Renshaw was without that ingredient. IMDb tells me she only wrote 3 episodes of Angel before leaving to work on Charmed (which this episode's cheesy tone reminded me of) and Ghost Whisperer.

"I've Got You Under My Skin" really scared me, but for all the wrong reasons.

written by Jeannine Renshaw | directed by R.D Price | 15 February 2000