Thursday, 9 April 2015

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 6.8 - 'Tabula Rasa' • ANGEL, 3.9 – 'Lullaby'

Thursday, 9 April 2015
SPIKE: Randy Giles? Why not just call me Horny Giles or Desperate-For-A-Shag Giles? I knew there was a reason I hated you.
Following an experimental episode of huge significance (both culturally and as part of the characters' growth), I was relieved that "TABULA RASA" proved a worthy follow-up—by tackling three of that hour's biggest developments: Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) revealing her friends didn't do her any favours bringing her back to life; Tara (Amber Menson) discovering Willow (Alyson Hannigan) has been wiping her memory; and Buffy's unexpected smooch with Spike (James Marsters). That it did all this within the confines of a knockabout comedy hour, was all the more likeable.

I've said it a few times, but my favourite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel are those where extraordinary events affect the main characters, specifically, rather than having them team-up to defeat whatever monster's causing town havoc. "Tabula Rasa" actually went one better, because it was entirely Willow's fault that things went south for the Scoobies, at a time when Spike's being strong-armed by a shark-headed demon called Teeth (Raymond O'Connor) into paying arrears. Having been given an ultimatum by Tara about her recent misuse of magic, that involved the serious charge of "mind violation", Willow unfortunately lasted hours before she's back casting spells to make her day run smoother. Worse, she conjures a spell using Lethe's Bramble to erase the nasty memories of her girlfriend (again), together with the recollections of blissful heaven that's plaguing the reborn Buffy. The consequences, thanks to an errant fireplace spark, almost prove disastrous...

Essentially, "Tabula Rasa" was an hour that had fun with a very simple idea: what if everyone woke up without any memories? The slate wipes clean. The repercussions of just such a thing proved irresistibly fun, with a fantastic sense of pace that helped make this hour very entertaining. Spike (disguised in a tweedy jacket and bow-tie to evade Teeth), believed he's an Englishman called "Randy", the son of Giles; Buffy had no idea she has super-powers and renamed herself Joan; Dawn took an instant dislike to Buffy, quickly reasoning they must be siblings; Xander thought he's dating Willow because of their awakened proximity; Giles made a similar mistake with Anya (Emma Caulfield), incorrectly assuming they're shop owners engaged to be married; and Tara... well, actually, she just sort of drifted around, separated from Willow.

Similarly to Star Trek episodes that have covered similar territory, the beauty of Rebecca Rand Kirschner's script was watching how this high-concept played itself out. It was wonderful seeing everyone (badly) extrapolate their personal identities, before trying to exist in their self-appointed roles with comedic results. I especially enjoyed the group's uncharacteristically terrified reaction to a couple of lightweight vampires on their doorstep (one played by David Franco, weirdly); an exasperated Giles watching Anya make dozens of rabbits appear through misuse of a magic book; and Spike's deep joy at realising he too has amazing strength like Buffy (but not that he's also a bloodsucking vampire).

Thankfully, there was more to this episode than the entertainment-value of seeing everyone act out-of-character, as the whole adventure ended with three major changes to the group dynamic: Tara realised she can't trust Willow, so they've split-up; Giles resolved to leave Sunnydale and fly back to England; and, despite her quiet protestation over their recent smooch, the hour ended with Buffy again locking lips with Spike back at The Bronze. I'm not sure how I feel about Giles leaving the show, semi-permanently, because it feels like it robs BtVS of an important figure—although I understand we're at the stage now where the character are growing up and becoming adults themselves, so there's arguably less need for parental figures.


written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner • directed by David Grossman • 13 November 2001

HOLTZ: You said you worked for the law.
LILAH: No I didn't. I said I'm a lawyer. I don't care about the law.
Angel continues its serialised storyline into mid-season; involving ancient prophecies, a mysterious pregnancy, and a Rip Van Winkle vampire hunter with a grudge against our vampire hero. "LULLABY" almost put a cap on this story, were it not for the parting words of Holtz (Keith Szarabajka) to demon cohort Sahjhan (Jack Conley) that he doesn't plan on showing Angel (David Boreanaz) any mercy, despite the episode ending on an apparent breakthrough in their relationship—as Holtz couldn't bring himself to shoot Angel with a crossbow in an alleyway, seconds after Darla (Julie Benz) had given birth to their son. Holtz isn't a monster and, as a father himself once, couldn't bring himself to end his sworn enemy's life in those circumstances—or at least that's what I inferred from how the scene played out.

There was a lot of soul-searching in this hour, which was good. Holtz caught Angel and chose to "monologue" before he escaped with the aide of a grenade, but not before learning through Lilah (Stephanie Romanov) that "Angelus" has regained his soul and isn't the evil vampire who killed his wife and turned his young daughter into a vampire—necessitating her painful death in the next morning's sunlight. But if Angel has a soul that forces him to make amends for his centuries of atrocities, can Holtz go through with his vengeance? I liked how the story played with our expectations a little, because it's clear Holtz is a sympathetic man who could admit Angel's a changed man who doesn't deserve to die, but ultimately you don't want to waste an actor with such an amazing voice on quick changes of hearts. No, Holtz is still out for blood—but maybe his prey's changed to Angel's infant son, as a more fitting 'eye for an eye' statement?

I also wasn't expecting Darla to die anytime soon (as playing Evil Mom would have been fun to see), but I appreciated how her final episode saw her finding common ground with Angel—both carrying souls, although hers is within the unborn human child she's carrying. Her fear that their son's birth will result in her reverting back to her evil ways was very nicely played by Julie Benz, who sold the distress and torment of the matter very well. I also loved how Darla's suicide after giving birth came after she stated her child with Angel was the only good they they ever did together. It capped the lengthy Angel/Darla storyline very nicely, and I'm sad to see her character written out—although, of course, perhaps she could reappear in some flashbacks again? Nobody's ever truly dead on genre TV, are they.


written & directed by Tim Minear • 19 November 2001 • The WB