Thursday, 10 April 2014

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 5.8 & 5.9 – 'Shadow' & 'Listening to Fear'

Thursday, 10 April 2014
XANDER: Am I right, Giles?
GILES: I'm almost certain you're not. But, to be fair, I wasn't listening.

This felt like an important episode for the season, but it wasn't one I was completely swept along with. I did enjoy seeing the situation with Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) play out, however, as the Slayer is finding her powers to be utterly useless on two fronts: the newest villain Glory (Clare Kramer) barely breaks a sweat when they fight, and now her sweet mother Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) has been diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumour. The latter issue was the most effective part of this episode by David Fury, as it's always interesting whenever a superhero can't defeat something that feels comparatively small-scale and humdrum. Buffy's saved the world a dozen times and slaughtered many beasts (including a giant cobra in this very episode), and yet a simple medical diagnosis leaves her utterly helpless.

"SHADOW" suggests a big change in the Summers family dynamic, which is even odder knowing that Buffy's aware her own sister's a self-unaware fake, but it also saw the onset of change for Buffy and Riley (Marc Blucas). The latter is convinced Buffy doesn't love him and has gone looking for affection with the very thing his girlfriend despises (a vampire), and while he can't yet bring himself to go have an affair (staking the vampire seductress he met in a bar), it seems like only a matter of time before they breakup. Unless the situation with Joyce is what's going to bring Buffy to realise she loves Riley, after all.

Other than that, "Shadow" wasn't the best of episodes. I'm still waiting for something to be revealed about Glory or Dawn that's going to clinch this fifth season for me, although I'm accustomed to Buffy the Vampire Slayer leaving things until the second-half of a season before matters coalesce. Still, Sutherland was terrific as Joyce and I quite enjoy the situation with Spike (James Marsters) falling head-over-heels with his own nemesis (especially now Riley has a feeling there's something going on between them). The CGI snake didn't look too bad for turn-of-the-millennium TV effects, either—although that sequence with it bursting into The Magic Box was a bit poor, but the mere fact Buffy got to kill a giant creature in a semi-plausible way made up for it. I'm glad the show now has the ambition to give Buffy better beasts to fight, as the endless assault of graveyard vampires who badly need self-defence lessons can be a drag.

BUFFY: You got her a book on spells? The girl who can break things by just looking at them, now has a book to teach her to break things by looking at 'em?

After five seasons, aliens finally invade Sunnydale—although it turns out the woodlouse-like creature in "LISTENING TO FEAR" was actually a demon Queller summoned from a fiery meteor. Still, the episode benefited from putting the Scooby Gang on the back-foot once they believe they're chasing an E.T that vomits toxic snot onto its victim's mouths. I just wish more of this episode worked, but it was my least favourite of this schizoid fifth season.

The mystery of Dawn isn't a huge concern for Buffy or Giles, so it's hard to really care about it as a viewer. Joyce realises her youngest daughter isn't "real", and yet very casually tells Buffy to treat her as if she were—which was a reaction that didn't feel even slightly plausible to me. People are too blasé about Dawn being an imposter, if you ask me. Spike falling in love with Buffy is a funny idea, but a lot rests on whether or not Buffy reciprocates once she realises her one-time nemesis is smitten. Joyce developing a life-threatening tumour is bringing some drama on a human level for the Summers family, and yet my heart-strings remain unmoved at present. And I'm really not sure what they're doing with Riley, now he's off getting his blood sucked by vampires and calling in his old military pals for assistance when nobody's looking.

The only real surprise of this episode is that kindly intern Ben (Charlie Weber) is the one who summoned the Queller demon, in order to reduce the number of crazy people in town Glory has created thanks to her brain-sucking. Otherwise, there really wasn't much in this episode to feel good about; beyond the ooh-factor of a helicopter landing sequence and an effectively disgusting make-up for the slug-like Queller beast. But we're approaching the halfway point of this season and it still feels like the writers are throwing ideas at a wall and seeing if anything will stick. Crazy Glory, Dawn's true identity, vampire Spike's infatuation, will it amount to anything? I'm having doubts.

written by David Fury (5.8) & Rebecca Rand Kirschner (5.9)| directed by Dan Attias (5.8) & David Solomon (5.9) | 21 & 28 November 2000