Thursday, 19 February 2015

ANGEL, 3.1 – 'Heartthrob' • BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 6.1-2 – 'Bargaining – Part 1 & 2'

Thursday, 19 February 2015
CORDELIA: How's Fred?
ANGEL: She's all right, considering. We talked over what happened... and I think she'll be coming out of her room any decade now.
I love season premieres that come roaring off the starting blocks, with renewed confidence, welcome adjustments, and fresh ideas they're keenly excited to show their audience. Unfortunately, Angel's third season premiere "HEARTTHROB" didn't manage that.

It was business-as-usual with "Heartthrob", for the most part—paying lip service to Angel's (David Boreanaz) beloved Buffy Summers dying on the mother show, and making us aware Pylea refugee Fred Burkle's (Amy Acker) now a cast regular. So now the two leading women on Angel are a cheery bimbo whose primarily role is to receive visions that kickstart the case-of-the-week, and a shut-in who scribbles on walls and is infatuated with her eponymous male liberator. An improvement? Not really. Let's hope Fred evolves into something more interesting than a screwed-up woman with PTSD, and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) gets more interesting scenes that cheap ones where a poltergeist draws her a hot bath—and sneaks a look at her naked, most likely.

It was disappointing how routine this episode felt; as it just wasn't anything special and I like premieres to be more elaborate than usual, and do something that lays the foundation for the season to come. Instead, Angel accidentally killed a vampire called Elisabeth (Kate Norby) whom he knew in 18th-century Marseille, which incurred the wrath of her centuries-old lover James (Ron Melendez). It was an understandable reaction, considering Elisabeth and James used to 'double date' with Angelus and Darla (Julie Benz) while they lived in decadent France, but that only gave the episode a dollop of added interest. Ultimately, it was a by-the-numbers instalment that didn't do much to excite me, and even the final reveal that modern-day Darla's pregnant with Angel's baby felt a bit… I don't know, obvious?

On the plus side, the camera work's finally giving us a better feel for the Hyperion Hotel (i.e. we're seeing more than just the dull lobby area), so there's that.


written & directed by David Greenwalt • 24 September 2001 • The WB

BUFFY: Is this Hell?
Angel's premiere couldn't hold a candle to Buffy the Vampire Slayer's, which admittedly had a more game-changing finale to reverberate to. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) sacrificed herself to save the world last season, sparing the life of her "sister" Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg), which means "BARGAINING: PART 1" opened with scenes revealing how her grieving friends are coping without her. Spike's (James Marsters) the muscle, Willow's (Alyson Hannigan) developed telepathy in which to coordinate the gang's movements around dark graveyards, and the so-called 'Buffybot' has been rebuilt as an invaluable doppelganger to prevent any nasties realising their arch-nemesis has been vanquished. (I presume Buffy's death didn't herald the immediate siring of a new Slayer, seeing as the world already has an unlikely spare in Faith?)

We all know BTvS isn't going to commit to having its eponymous heroine absent for long, but nevertheless it was fun to see how Buffy's loss has changed everyone—although there wasn't enough time to explore it fully. Fantasy/sci-fi shows kill their heroes a lot nowadays (Arrow's third season did a version of it just recently), and there's less of a rush to hit the reset button.

The biggest change is that Willow and her girlfriend Tara (Amber Benson) are behaving like parents to Dawn and the Buffybot, while Giles (Anthony Head) is beginning to question his involvement with the gang. Indeed, the premiere's biggest surprise was seeing Head credited as a 'special guest star', which unfortunately ruined the surprise of Giles deciding to fly back to London. As someone who didn't watch BtVS when it first aired, I'm not sure if Head's coming back after a negotiated break, but it'll be a big loss if Giles is going to be reduced to occasional appearances over the final two seasons!

Predictably enough, it's Willow who decides to use her magic to resurrect Ms Summers—assuming this dangerous spell will be more palatable than the 'Joyce Zombie' she conjured into existence last year, because Buffy wasn't killed by natural means. See? Makes sense. Simultaneously, a lowly vampire discovered that "The Slayer" is actually a robot imposter, and duly informed a demon biker gang (awesome make-up) who rode into Sunnydale to take advantage of the situation. It was pleasing that Willow's resurrection spell actually felt dangerous and violent (resulting in deep forearm cuts and her regurgitating a snake), and the final shot of Buffy's rotten corpse regaining flesh-and-blood was an excellent way to end the hour on an unexpected cliffhanger—our heroine's back from the dead, but condemned to die because she's now buried alive. Oh, the irony! (Final thought: all these years I've assumed Sunnydale was an insignificant town somewhere in rural California, but it has its own airport?!)

The second part, "BARGAINING: PART 2", rushed over the issue of Buffy being trapped underground too quickly for my liking, but was nevertheless a good conclusion that had the decency to ensure our revivified heroine's back in body, but perhaps not in spirit. The majority of this episode was given over to scenes of the demonic bikers trashing Sunnydale (more efficiently than any villain we've encountered before) and the Scooby Gang failing to defend the town against this violent horde. Sure, Buffy manages to dig her way out of her own grave, but she spends most of the hour traipsing around her hometown looking forlorn in a funeral dress.

Writer David Fury did a good job amplifying the audience's desire to see Buff reunite with her friends, although when the moment came it was underwhelming. I guess even the sight of someone risen from the dead barely provokes a raised eyebrow with this bunch after six years? A pity. Buffy's return just didn't have the dramatic impact it deserved, although the climactic scene of Dawn trying to coax her sister down from the makeshift tower she swandived off was decent enough. More effective was the sequence where Buffybot was dismembered after having her limbs attached to chains being held by bikers, as a celebration of the demon gang's victory.

Overall, these episodes were a good start for the sixth season, and I'm interested to see how quickly Buffy recovers from her ordeal. Hopefully she won't be back to normal within a few episodes, and the show will spend some time rebuilding the character. Her return did at least manage to sell the fact The Slayer has superhuman strength, because the fact Buffy isn't just a very well-trained fighter but actually has unearthly abilities tends to get lost on me.


written by Marti Noxon (6.1) & David Fury (6.2) • directed by David Grossman • 2 October 2001 • UPN