Thursday, 24 April 2014

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 5.12 & 5.13 – 'Checkpoint' & 'Blood Ties'

Thursday, 24 April 2014
QUENTIN: You used to respect us, Giles. You used to be one of us.
GILES: You used to pay me.

Along with the show's wishy-washy treatment of vampire culture, the other thing I've been disappointed with in Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the Watchers Council. As a group, they've just never made much sense to me. What exactly do they do? And why don't they provide more support for Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Giles (Anthony Head), instead of being obstinate bookworms? I understand the show wanted to give "the good guys" some edge, but as a society I just don't understand them. I would actually make more sense if there was always a sole Watcher and they passed their knowledge onto a protégée, in order to help the next generation's Slayer.

"CHECKPOINT" saw the return of the Watchers Council, once again led by Quentin Travers (the great Harris Yulin), who descend on Sunnydale with knowledge to aide in the defeat of Glory (Clare Kramer)... but, um, only after they once again put Buffy through her paces with various tests and challenges, while interviewing her friends as part of a thorough audit. Why do they withhold crucial information like that, using it as leverage to test Buffy? I get these people are supposed to be pains in the ass, but this episode made me seriously question the Council's sanity.

Thankfully, the end result of "Checkpoint" was about Buffy realising she's the one who has power over those who claim otherwise; both in terms of Glory being unable to kill The Slayer because she knows where the mysterious Key is located, and in the Watchers Council essentially trying to impose themselves on The Slayer because she's ultimately the one who calls the shots. Without Buffy they're a collection of occult scholars, so it was fantastic to see Buffy realise this and give Quentin an ultimatum about how their working relationship's going to change. Plus the episode finally reinstated Giles as an official Watcher since he was fired a few seasons ago, with full retroactive pay.

Elsewhere in this episode, Ben (Charlie Weber) the hospital orderly was made aware Buffy is actually The Slayer, and Buffy took steps to ensure her family's safety after Glory threatened their lives—by sending them to stay in Spike's (James Marsters) crypt. Incidentally, it amused me how this scene mirrored the one where Spike was a house-guest of Joyce's (Kristine Sutherland) back in season 2, and how those characters always seem to get on (here settling down together to watch a cheesy TV soap). In addition, Buffy also encountered the Knights of Byzantium, who have arrived in town to destroy the Key—although it's a little unclear if this makes them allies or enemies. Buffy wouldn't want Dawn (the key) destroyed, and yet if the Knights complete their mission one assumed this would scupper Glory's plan.

DAWN: I just think you're freakin' out 'cause you have to fight someone prettier than you. That is the case, right?
BUFFY: Glory is evil. And powerful. And in no way prettier than me.

The reactions of Buffy, Joyce and Giles regarding Dawn haven't been very persuasive this season. Can you imagine finding hard evidence that a close member of your family is an invention, and that all your memories of her are false ones? That's a huge mind-fuck and something that definitely needed exploring deeper and more interestingly, but Buffy and Joyce have accepted Dawn with something of a blasé attitude. "BLOOD TIES" did its best to correct some of that, with enjoyable but only moderate results.

One thing I was relieved about is that Dawn finally discovered she isn't "real", shortly after Buffy told her friends about Dawn's status as the shape-shifted artefact Glory is looking for. (Serves Buffy right for leaking the secret to her pals, who immediately started acting weird around Dawn and thus made her very suspicious.) But I'm glad all the characters are finally on the same page, as it's a bit of a drag when they're not all focused. And while people's reactions to Dawn have been unconvincing, I think Dawn herself behaved exactly as you'd expect a 14-year-old to: doubt, fear, anger, confusion and resentment.

The point of the episode was to make Buffy and Joyce realise they love Dawn as if she was genuinely related to them, because for all intents and purposes she is. How can you deny a corporeal being and your own memories, even if you know them to be the result of powerful magic? This whole episode would probably have worked better if we'd felt Buffy and Joyce struggling to accept Dawn before this episode, which had slowly led to Dawn becoming suspicious, but the fact it hasn't been a big deal to them let the story down somewhat. But it was still worthwhile to see Dawn come to believe in herself, and accept that she's still part of the Summers family.

Overall, "Blood Ties" was a good episode (the debut of writer Steven S. DeKnight, who would go on to create Spartacus: Blood & Sand), but it would have been more emotional with better groundwork. But I liked the reveal that the people Glory's turning insane (after sucking their brains dry for sustenance) are left with the ability to see Dawn for what she truly is, and the climactic fight with Glory at the hospital was a lot of fun—especially once Tara (Amber Benson) and Willow (Alyson Hannigan) saved the day by casting a teleportation spell that sent Glory to high above the city. The decision to make Dawn and Spike bond also worked well, and feels like a promising development for both characters—as Spike's protectiveness should endear him more to Buffy, while Dawn could have a cool older friend who may be a bad influence.

written by Doug Petrie & Jane Espenson (5.12) & Steven S. DeKnight (5.13) | directed by Nick Marck (5.12) & Michael Gershman (5.13) | 23 January & 6 February 2001