Friday, 25 October 2013

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 4.19 – 'New Moon Rising' & ANGEL, 1.19 – 'Sanctuary'

Friday, 25 October 2013
Willow: I don't know. I just... life was starting to get so good again, and... you're a big part of that. And here comes the thing I wanted most of all, and... I don't know what to do. I want to know, but I don't.
Tara: Do what makes you happy.

A welcome return for Oz (Seth Green), considering the actor left the show earlier in the season and, in so doing, disrupted a planned love-triangle storyline that had to be rushed through in a few episodes. I haven't spent subsequent weeks wondering what Oz is up to, or lamenting the loss of his relationship with Willow (Alyson Hannigan) on the show, but "NEW MOON RISING" felt more necessary than I was expecting it to. It put the seal on the Willow/Oz romance in fine style, with a touching and rewarding story from Marti Noxon.

I've been a little confused by just how much everyone realises Willow is starting a relationship with Tara (Amber Benson), as it was reasonable to assume they all knew and sapphism wasn't a big deal in the Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) inner circle. But it turns out it was still very much under wraps, but forced out into the open when Willow's ex, Oz, returned to Sunnydale after months spent travelling overseas. Oz is ready to resume their relationship, particularly now he's discovered a way to prevent himself transforming into a werewolf on a Full Moon. He wasn't expecting Willow to have found love elsewhere; and certainly not with a girl.

"New Moon Rising" was a very strong episode that again proved the Willow/Oz relationship is more heartfelt and interesting than any of the others the writers have experimented with. The Buffy/Angel love story gets bigger press, but it's comparatively sketchy. You really do feel the connection between Green and Hannigan on-screen, and the latter blossoms into a much better actress when she's trying to voice the complications she feels in her heart. So it's only more frustrating that a good 30% of Willow's character is a kind of baby-talking geek when she doesn't have strong material to work with. A part of me was hoping she's ditch Tara and leave with Oz, too, because the Willow/Tara romance is sweet and fun.. but also a little thin right now. It doesn't help that Benson's revealing herself to be a less capable actress than I had thought. She gets a few scenes here that signal her shortcomings, as her readings of the dialogue comes across as pretty wooden.

Away from the Willow/Oz/Tara stuff, this episode was also notable for making Riley (Marc Blucas) finally choose between the Initiative and Buffy. He's been pulled in two directions for awhile, but the return of Oz makes him realise that demons aren't black-and-white. While some are accursed creature of the night that need exterminating, some are just the dark sides of innocent people. Werewolves can be great people for most of the month, and not every vampire is evil. When Oz is eventually captured, imprisoned, and experimented on by the Initiative, it was good to see Riley make a principled stand against the Initiative's narrow world-view.

In a sub-plot, I also enjoyed the idea of making Spike (James Marsters) complicit in Adam's (George Hertzberg) plan to bring about the apocalypse. He's now working undercover for the Big Bad, with an arrangement to have his brain-chip removed once the Slayer's dead and victory is Adam's. This should give things a nice dynamic in the remaining episodes, as nobody's aware the 'de-fanged' Spike is back to being a threat, and helps make Adam a touch more interesting as a master manipulator. He's not just a physical powerhouse, he clearly has some intelligence.

Overall, "New Moon Rising" was an emotionally-charged episode that worked really well as the final word on Willow and Oz's complex feelings for each other. It was smartly written, and I liked how Noxon used the show's supernatural flavours (like Oz only 'wolfing out' when he feels negatively towards Willow). And with the old flames going their separate ways in the end, Willow literally bring a new flame to Tara's bedroom and their relationship can move to the next stage without any guilt or secrecy. Great episode.

written by Marti Noxon | directed by James A. Contner | 2 May 2000

Angel: It wasn't too long ago that you were the one making the case for her rehabilitation.
Wesley: It wasn't too long ago I had full feeling in my right arm!

Faith (Eliza Dushku) has really proven herself a shot in the arm for both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel this season, although clearly it's the latter that has benefited the most. The show still has some issues, and appears to come up with excuses to get rid of Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) whenever her character would just get in the way. I guess it's because she lacks drama and is too comedic—which initially helped make Angel a more endearing show when it started, but now just seems to get in the way of its attempts to be dark and gritty.

"SANCTUARY" was a sequel to Angel's preceding episode, the excellent "Five by Five", and BtVS's recent two-part finale "Who Are You" (where she slept with Buffy's boyfriend Riley after a body-swap, dealing the ultimate emotional blow on her arch-nemesis). I'm pleased to report this episode worked well as a cap on Faith's criss-crossing adventure after awakening from a coma, but to be honest you tend to relax if Joss Whedon's name is in the credits as a writer. As the brains behind this universe, he knows these characters better than anyone, and writes them accordingly.

It was a human dilemma at the heart of this week's episode. Faith was captured and brought back to Angel's apartment for rehabilitation (um, donuts), but that didn't go down well with Wesley (Alexis Denisoff) after she tortured him half to death the previous night. Adding to the difficulty of the situation, Wolfram & Hart's lawyers got wind of Faith's failure to kill Angel and decided to send an assassin to kill them both; and the Watcher Council similarly tried to recruit Wesley back into their organisation so he'd help them catch Faith and take her back to England for treatment. And if all that wasn't complex enough, this became an unexpected crossover episode when Buffy herself arrived on the scene and was shocked to see her ex-boyfriend so cosy with the woman who almost ruined her life. I haven't even mentioned the manhunt for Faith, headed by Detective Lockley (Elisabeth Röhm).

There was a lot going on in "Sanctuary", but it was variations on the fact a lot of people want to get their hands on Faith. Dushku did a good job communicating the regret and guilt her character's feeling, and Faith wasn't as deathly dull as I'd feared now she isn't in "evil mode". I just wonder if she'll remain as favourite character if she makes a return in the future, fully rehabilitated and happy in herself. Hopefully they won't forget she was always rebellious, even back when she was good.

The appearance of Buffy was welcome, even if I'm a little surprised Angel has been having so many crossover episodes this season. Thankfully this episode suggests we'll be getting less, in a great scene where Angel essentially tells Buffy they're not the same person and they have different ways of doing things. They've been in each other's lives for so long, but their relationship appears to have reached a more definitive end here. Angel sees that he's a different person now, while Buffy has moved on with a new boyfriend back at Sunnydale.

Overall, "Sanctuary" was a great conclusion to a handful of episodes spread across both shows in the latter-half of their respective seasons. It spoke to Angel's core theme of redemption, and of people putting aside their differences to help someone in need. I also liked how each character represented a different approach to dealing with Faith: Angel keen to help, Wesley caught in a moral grey area, Cordelia avoiding the whole situation, Buffy refusing to believe Faith can be redeemed, Lockley simply seeing things in black-and-white.

written by Tim Minear & Joss Whedon | directed by Michael Lange | 2 May 2000