Friday, 18 July 2014

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 5.20 & 5.21 – 'Spiral' & 'The Weight of the World'

Friday, 18 July 2014
BEN: You know why I wanted to become a doctor?
GRONX: Flattering drawstring pants?
Approaching the finale, SPIRAL was an action-packed episode that also demystified almost everything about the situation with goddess Glory (Clare Kramer) and Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) as her Key-in-human-form. Maybe it's just me, but the fact hospital orderly Ben (Charlie Weber) is a human prison for Glory that she manages to temporarily overcome, wasn't clear until this episode. Maybe it was more obvious back in 2001, because the problem with watching Angel simultaneously is having long periods (sometimes almost a month) where you're separated from Buffy the Vampire Slayer's storyline and tend to forget key things. The very existence of the Knights of Byzantium had completely slipped my mind, actually, until they returned here.

However, putting aside some issues brought about by how I'm choosing to watch both series, "Spiral" was a high-octane episode by the standards of BtVS. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) only narrowly escaped a rampaging Glory, thanks to an apparently blind truck driver being on the road that day, and immediately decided the best course of action is to runaway. Cue a road trip to anywhere with the Scooby Gang, in a battered Winnebago driven by Spike (James Marsters), eventually chased by a legion of Knights on horseback—led by burly General Gregor (a pre-Prison Break Wade Williams)—later culminating in a siege around an abandoned gas station.

It was action movie cliches every step of the way (including this show's version of Red Indians boarding a stage-coach), but that was fine by me. It's rare BtVS feels like it's actually spending some money and taking its characters out into fresh locations, with plentiful extras and some new sets. And, as I said earlier, we finally learned that The Key has the ability to tear down dimensional barriers, which Glory hopes will return her to the realm she was exiled from, while simultaneously causing inter-dimensional Armageddon. So yeah, it's win-win for her. Plus Ben's body-share issue was revealed to everyone, when Buffy made the unwittingly awful decision to let him tend to the injured Giles (Anthony Head). It might have been nice if Ben had felt like a more credible potential boyfriend for Buffy, however, as that's how his introduction came across. That would have meant a further kick in the guts for Buffy, if Ben had been someone closer to her heart than he ended up being on the show.

Overall, this was a rousing hour that set up the imminent finale very well, and leaves Buffy with arguably her most challenging uphill struggle yet. Her mother's dead, her mentor's seriously injured, a close friend has brain-damage, her sister's been taken by an enemy she's no match for physically. But at least Spike appears to have been accepted into the gang, finally, and Willow (Alyson Hannigan) continues to become a bad-ass sorceress instead of an amateur Wiccan practitioner who can levitate pencils.

written by Steven S. DeKnight | directed by James A. Contner | 8 May 2001

SPIKE: Ben, Glory. He's a doctor, she's the Beast. Two entirely separate entities sharing one body. It's like a bloody sitcom.
After an exciting hour of build-up, a lower gear is selected for penultimate episode THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD. Rather than dive head-first into the finale, this was an hour where the characters take stock of the task's enormity. It also allowed viewers to consider the subtleties of the situation with Glory body-sharing with Ben (a spell that's beginning to lose its power, exposing a chink in Glory's armour). But mainly it let writer Doug Petrie do his own version of Joss Whedon's season 4 finale "Restless", with Willow entering the mind-scape of a catatonic Buffy.

I wasn't best-pleased with the frankly ridiculous idea Buffy would lose her mind, just because her sister has been kidnapped, so that soured a lot of this hour for me. While it enabled some moderately fun scenes with Willow wandering around inside Buffy's head-space (meeting her friend as a cute pigtailed girl), it smacked of wheel-spinning for the sake of it. There was really no need for this episode; as one great scene with Buffy resolving to fight on, against all the odds, would have accomplished much the same thing.

At its heart, "The Weight of the World" only really wanted audiences to know two things: Ben's beginning to have an influence on goddess Glory, making her feel guilt for what she's doing (but ultimately opts to go along with things out of self-preservation), and Buffy now believes she's destined to kill her own sister to save the multiverse. I'm not sure a whole hour was required to clarify all this (that scene with Ben and Glory 'morphing' into each other during an argument seemed to go on forever), but I guess it was a necessary episode to reflect on matters before the big climax.

written by Doug Petrie | directed by David Solomon | 15 May 2001