Friday, 25 July 2014

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 5.22 - 'The Gift' & ANGEL, 2.22 - 'There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb'

Friday, 25 July 2014
BUFFY: Dawn, listen to me. Listen. I love you. I will always love you. But this is the work that I have to do. Tell Giles... tell Giles I figured it out. And, and I'm okay. And give my love to my friends. You have to take care of them now. You have to take care of each other. You have to be strong. Dawn, the hardest thing in this world... is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me.
The fifth season finale had some very good moments, but I was a little underwhelmed considering it represents the climax of what feels like a very long season. I don't think this year worked as well as it might have, with various issues throwing the storyline off-track at times, but enough worked for me to rate THE GIFT quite highly. Obviously, the shock ending of Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) sacrificing herself instead of Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg), to prevent an inter-dimensional apocalypse, didn't have the same impact for someone coming late to the show. I'm aware there are two more seasons to go, and it would take an inordinately brave show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer to no longer feature Buffy the vampire slayer.

Written and directed by creator Joss Whedon (who tends to save the best material for himself, having taken a step back from running BtVS on a day-to-day basis at this point), "The Gift" certainly brought the expected fireworks and some strong emotional beats. I was particularly surprised by Giles (Anthony Head), who suddenly developed a no-nonsense attitude regarding the apparent necessity to murder Dawn to spare countless billions. It was a shock to see him get angry with Buffy, who remained naively optimistic about the chances of them saving the universe without killing her sister, and I was staggered by the moment when Giles suffocated Ben (Charlie Weber) to prevent Glory (Clare Kramer) recovering from their shared bodily injuries. We haven't ever seen Giles in this role before—doing bad things for the greater good, to spare Buffy the pain of it—but it made total sense, and gives his character some much-needed depth.

There was also a very nice moment when Spike (James Marsters) was invited back into Buffy's home, having previously had that invite revoked after revealing his feelings for The Slayer. The awkward, unrequited love story between both characters has been one of the better sub-plots of the season, and I like how they've both found a way to accept each other's position and move into a embryonic friendship. "I know that I'm a monster, but you treat me like a man", he told her. I wonder if their relationship will stay in the friend-zone, or could possibly develop as Spike wants.

However, much of the episode was more of the full-on action I enjoyed seeing in "Spiral" a few episodes ago. Buffy and the gang attacked Glory's stronghold, using the Dagon Sphere (which can repel and confuse her) and the enormous hammer of Olaf the troll. Plus, there was the unexpected return of the Buffy-bot, and the welcome appearance of demonic Doc (Joel Grey)—who, for my money, is a scarier presence than Glory because he has the feel of an ageing Nazi whose cover's been blown. After cutting Dawn to make her bleed and open the gates between dimensions, Doc was comically thrown off the makeshift tower Glory's minions had built, but I hope we haven't seen the last of him. If Spike can survive that fall, I don't see why he can't.

And so, in the end, Buffy realises her "gift of death" didn't mean what she though. It wasn't a nod to her role as the bringer of death to so many vampires and demons, but a clue that the dimensions can be sealed if she dies instead of Dawn (as the same blood flows through their veins). The shot of Buffy running in slow-motion, swan-diving off the tower and into the rippling electrical bubble, was very moving... as moving as the final shot of Buffy's headstone was bitter-sweet. 'She Saved The World. A lot.'

This 100th episode marks the end of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on The WB, and was apparently marketed as the series finale before it aired. Interestingly, their rivals UPN then picked the show up for another two seasons, which I've always heard are of relatively poor quality compared to the first five. Mind you, some people told me season 5 was terrible, and I actually didn't mind it. It had some problems, but I rather liked the addition of Dawn, and Glory was a more active villain than the show's had in awhile. It was just a shame she was supposed to be so unstoppable, because the nature of U.S network television meant the writers had to find ways to keep her from just slaughtering Buffy's gang like ants. There was a line in this finale suggesting Ben's influence had stopped her doing that, which did help matters retrospectively.

written & directed by Joss Whedon | 22 May 2001

WESLEY: Why do people keep putting me in charge of things?
GUNN: I have no idea.
While the mother show capped of a patchy season with a strong finale, poor Angel limps to a conclusion with the completely forgettable THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE PLRTZ GLRB. Beyond the comical idea that Lorne (Andy Hallett) could survive a beheading, until his body is destroyed, there wasn't really anything about this episode that surprised or moved me.

It was a knockabout hour that resolved things in a very predictable way. Wes (Alexis Denisoff) and Gunn (J. August Richards) let a revolt against the demon ruling class with some villagers, Angel (David Boreanaz) had a duel to the death with Groosalugg (Mark Lutz), and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) ultimately left Pylea in a slightly more enlightened state when it comes to slavery. Huzzah! Oh, and Fred (Amy Acker) tagged along, like a spare wheel.

Ultimately, I think this episode frustrated me because it was clear the Pylea arc didn't justify a three-part commitment. There wasn't enough here to sustain my interest, and much of it could have been thrown into last week's episode to create a solid two-parter. Also, having just watched BtVS end its year with "The Gift", which resolved a lot of year-long plot threads, having Angel end its own season with a story only just introduced felt odd. I've read the writers wanted to do something different, and Julie Benz wasn't available as Darla, but I'm not sure the gamble paid off. Nothing here felt connected to the season as a whole, so as a season finale it just didn't work for me.

As if to rub salt in the wound, the denouement had the gang returning to Pylea and finding Willow (Alyson Hannigan) waiting for them with news of Buffy's death. So, in other words, the BtVS finale was so epic that it immediately overshadowed Angel's comparatively trivial season-ender and made this episode look even more trite.

written & directed by David Greenwalt | 22 May 2001

Now that both seasons have drawn to a close, I'll once again be taking a break from these Buffyverse catchups, before continuing with Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 6 and Angel season 3 sometimes after the summer! I hope you'll join me then.