Thursday, 3 April 2014

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 5.7 – 'Fool for Love' & ANGEL, 2.7 - 'Darla'

Thursday, 3 April 2014
SPIKE: Lesson the second: ask the right questions. You wanna know how I beat 'em? The question isn't how'd I win. The question is, why'd they lose?

Spike (James Marsters) has been one of the trickier characters to handle, ever since the writers decided to keep him around after villain duties in the second season. The idea of muzzling him with a behaviour-inhibiting chip in season 4 was a step in the right direction, and I'm actually quite enjoying this fifth season's desire to see him romantically entangled with sworn enemy Buffy (Sarah Michele Gellar)—which goes against every fibre of his being.

"Fool for Love" cemented the idea Buffy is losing her mojo/powers, for some unknown reason, and is now capable of being defeated by a lowly vampire during one of her regular cemetery brawls. This inspires thoughts of her own mortality, and an interest in the Final Battles of the Slayers that have preceded her, to see if she can somehow avoid going to an early grave. Naturally, Spike the the ideal person to speak to, as he personally killed two of history's Slayers and could offer some insight into what they did wrong, and if Buffy can avoid history repeating itself.

Cue a very enjoyable episode with some of the best flashbacks I've seen on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and Angel, for that matter). It was particularly fun to see that Spike began life as a bad poet called "William the bloody" (but that the frightening nickname was actually a qualifier of how terrible his writing was). Amusingly, he was far from the platinum-blonde punk anarchist he portrays himself as into the 21st-century, but a rather effeminate member of high society—romantically rejected by his beautiful muse, which resulted in him being turned into a vampire by Drusilla (Juliet Landau) while at a low ebb.

The other flashbacks were equally fun: from Spike hanging around with Angelus (David Boreanaz) and Darla (Julie Benz) in 19th-century Yorkshire, to him fighting a Chinese Slayer during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion, and finally with a brilliant subway fight in 1977 New York City against a plucky young Slayer (Nikki Wood) with a big afro.

But while the flashback were fun and added some spice, "Fool for Love" mainly succeeded because it was a very interesting character study for Spike and Buffy—two people bound by their natures to be enemies, and yet also finding a way to coexist. The fact Spike now fancies Buffy could have been a horrible misstep for the series, but I think it's working very well right now. Buffy clearly doesn't feel the same (pulling away from his attempt to kiss her), and yet the excellent final scene on the porch suggests a positive evolution of their relationship is very possible. Spike arriving to kill Buffy with a double-barrelled shotgun, only to find his nemesis crying on the steps of her porch because her mother's health is now in question, and instead deciding to sit next to her in noble support. It was a lovely moment. We see from the flashbacks that Buffy is almost like an echo of the muse who spurned Spike (she even describes him as being "beneath her" too), and yet Spike's perhaps matured enough in 200 years to take this on the chin and instead prove he isn't. And showing solidarity with an wounded enemy, rather than seeking vengeance, was a big first step. A great episode; easily the best of this season so far.

GYPSY MAN: He must suffer, as all his victims have suffered.
DARLA: That is no justice. Whatever pain he caused to your daughter was momentary, over in an instant... or an hour. But what you've done to him will force him to suffer for the rest of eternity!

A companion piece was "Darla" (the seventh episode of Angel that originally aired after "Fool for Love"), which was a showcase for the eponymous villain, now back from the dead in human form. It likewise featured extended flashbacks to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries (one of which neatly intersected with the scene in "Fool for Love" when a jilted Spike caught the eye of Drusilla). It was just as fun to the preceding BtVS instalment, and yet better because it was a more integral and important part of the story Angel's in the midst of Angel's season.

Julie Benz was excellent throughout this episode; playing a character whose already started evolving from vengeful psychopath to a mentally-unstable young woman, who believes herself cursed with humanity—in the same way her old flame Angel has felt cursed by the vampirism Darla now craves. It's an interesting Ying Yang scenario for the characters, and I really enjoyed how grand and operatic this episode allowed itself to become—indulging viewers with a big soundtrack (by Robert Krai and Thomas Wanker) and one ostentatious slow-motion The Right Stuff-style "heroes walk" for Angelus, Drusilla, Darla and Spike during the Chinese Boxer Rebellion.

Considering how many flashbacks have been doled up in both shows, I'm surprised the writers still find entertaining wrinkles to explore. We've known how Angel became a vampire for a very long time, and yet here we are still being fed additional information to deepen the story (even if there's never any huge new piece of the story to add). Here we saw how a syphilitic Darla (Benz) was turned into a vampire on her deathbed—by BtVS season 1's The Master (Mark Metcalfe), no less—and how she suffered when her beloved was cursed with a soul and couldn't stomach ghastly things like killing innocents and devouring babies any more. Sometimes the magic in a relationship just dies, doesn't it. One thing that did intrigue me is how Angel (with a soul) at least attempted to keep their romance going, by keeping his feelings of remorse and guilt a secret. I'd somehow imagined it was an overnight change for Angel (going from disrespectful monster to shy good guy), but this episode told us different.

Also interesting to note that the human Darla's snared the heart of Lindsey (Christian Kane) over at Wolfram & Hart—who also appear to know a repercussion of her rebirth is insanity. The situation between Angel and W&H has always felt a little woolly to me, so by making Angel and Lindsey competitors for Darla's love might be a good idea to pursue. It gives things a more personal touch.

Overall, "Darla" was a terrific hour and an impressive debut for Tim Minear as a director on the show. The non-linear storyline and parallels between the past and present worked really well, while Benz and Boreanaz did some of their best work. Those characters really work together (more so than Angel and Buffy, to my mind), and I just hope whatever resolution we get will be worth what's becoming a grand build-up. Oh, and the Hyperion Hotel also seemed to work a lot better this week as a HQ for Angel Investigations, as they finally moved somewhere other than the reception and lobby.

written by Doug Petrie (5.7) & Tim Minear (2.7) | directed by Nick Marck (5.7) & Tim Minear (2.7) | 14 November 2000