Thursday, 27 February 2014

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 5.3 & 5.4 – 'The Replacement' & 'Out of My Mind'

Thursday, 27 February 2014
XANDER: Yeah, maybe it's definitely time to start lookin' for a new place. Something a little nicer. Buffy, you've been to Hell, they had one-bedrooms, right?

As I mentioned in my preamble last week, fifth seasons can be a time when you start to notice TV shows repeating themselves—and the trick for writers is to give their audience something a little different than anticipated, wherever possible. "THE REPLACEMENT" achieved that, for the most part, as Xander (Nicholas Brendan) was shot in a junk yard by a demon Toth (Michael Bailey Smith), and woke up the next morning to discover an "evil twin" had taken over his life. The kicker being that Xander's doppelgänger was demonstrably more suave, mature and confident—earning himself a promotion at work, the keys to a beautiful new apartment, and the deeper adoration of girlfriend Anya (Emma Caulfield).

Xander's not my favourite character, and yet he tends to have the more appealing episodes focusing on him (a favourite of mine is still "The Zeppo), and that's perhaps because he's the closest personality to my own—sorry for those readers who've imagined me as a hybrid of bookworm Giles (Anthony Giles) and beefcake Riley (Marc Blucas). This episode wasn't a particular highlight for Xander, but it was better than anticipated thanks to a decent subversion of expectation. It turned out Xander wasn't dealing with a clichéd evil twin, but a clone imbued with his most positive traits. (So it's the show's cheerier version of Star Trek's "The Enemy Within".)

This afforded us a glimpse of Xander at his absolute best, although it perhaps didn't work entirely as intended because, frankly, you never see the "real Xander" as anything other than the geeky, gabbling, unassertive type. To some extent this is why the twist even worked (together with some misdirection using a 'hypnotic coin'), because the suave Xander felt so alien; but, regardless, it would definitely have been cooler to have felt identification with both halves of the whole.

Still, "The Replacment" was a decent enough episode with a good dual performance from Brendan, and I enjoyed the moment when ex-demon Anya admitted she's scared of her new-found mortality (knowing she'll die in approximately 50-years, having previously lived for millennia). As an episode where both Giles and Xander moved into new residences, I'm also pleased to see some forward movement in those character's lives after the stalling fourth season, and it was interesting to see Riley admit he knows Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) doesn't return the depth of feeling he has for her.

SPIKE: Taking up smoking, are you?
HARMONY: I am a villain, Spike. Hello.

"OUT OF MY MIND" didn't have much of an overall plan, as it felt more like a means to address two issues Buffy the Vampire Slayer needs to contend with regarding season 4 leftovers. Both concern the two men in Buffy's life, at opposite ends of her love-hate chart: vampire Spike (James Marsters), who finally takes affirmative action against the Initiative's behaviour-inhibiting chip they implanted in his brain; and her boyfriend Riley, who discovers he has a heart condition that's an unfortunate side effect of his Initiative treatment to become a "super soldier".

This was an episode of good moments, tackling things I'm relieved the show's started paying some attention to. In the previous episode it became clear Riley doesn't think Buffy loves him, and that she's only sticking around because he's the closest thing to a vampire that doesn't risk her safety, so it was good to have this matter out in the open. Spike's also been a neutered presence (because the writers wanted Marsters to stick around, post-villain duties in season 2), and I liked how they've decided to give him feelings for Buffy. The final scene of Buffy and Spike kissing in his crypt actually didn't feel like too much of a bad idea, to create a weird love-triangle, but I'm glad it was a fake-out (a wet dream Spike's having, to his own horror). It should be interesting to see what happens now Spike's affection for his kind's Slayer are confirmed, if only subconsciously, and if he decides to act on them, or bury them out of shame.

Also fun was how, for a split second, whatever spell Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) has over everyone was broken in the Summers's kitchen, with Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) briefly aware Dawn's an impostor. I've heard that Dawn's a character many fans despise, but I'm not entirely sure why based on Trachtenberg's performances so far. I'm hoping the resentment isn't tied into how dumb the explanation is for Dawn's arrival, because at the moment I'm quite enjoying the ongoing weirdness there's someone (or something) pretending to be the heroine's li'l sister.

written by Jane Espenson (5.3) & Rebecca Rand Kirschner (5.4) | directed by James A. Contner (5.3) & David Grossman (5.4) | 10 & 17 October 2000