Thursday, 25 June 2015

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 6.16 – 'Hell's Bells' • ANGEL, 3.17- 'Forgiving'

Thursday, 25 June 2015
ANYA: Okay. For the last time. I, Anya, want to marry you, Xander, because I love you and I'll always love you. And before I knew you, I was like a completely different person. Not even a person, really. And I had seen what love could do to people, and it was hurt and sadness. Alone was better. And then, suddenly there was you, and... you knew me. You saw me, and it was this... thing. You make me feel safe and warm. So, I get it now. I finally get love, Xander. I really do.
Last week's catchups fanned a heated comment discussion this week (I sort of love it when those happen), so I'd like to quickly address a few things it raised. Yes, I fully appreciate that I'm not enjoying season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and some of my frustration is feeding into these catchup posts—in the sense my attention has increasingly wandered, so various oversights have been made. It's also worth remembering that I'm watching both Buffyverse episodes just once, then writing about them immediately after with no research time. This means I will undoubtedly forget things and make stupid errors along the way. I know fans will point out my mistakes in an adult manner and allow me take account for an unfortunate slip, or leave a nasty comment questioning my worth as a human being. Hopefully the former.

Anyway, my beef with season 6 has been down to BtVS deciding to tackle more adult themes and put its "young" characters through very tough "grown up" situations, but it doesn't really having the best writers or actors for that task. I preferred the show in its earlier incarnation, and feel that things began to slip once the Scoobies left high school—but certainly this season's where the wheels have come off, for me. "HELL'S BELLS" was actually a case in point, because the first half felt like a fun throwback to the 'golden age' of BtVS, with a very entertaining idea to explore... then proceeded to suck the life out of itself by getting heavy.

It's the day of Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Anya's (Emma Caulfield) wedding, which has unfortunately been pushed into the background most of the season. That said, the way in which this episode setup their nuptuals was engaging—with Xander's human family meeting Anya's demonic kin, whose ugly appearances were amusingly explained away because they're posing as "circus folk". Anya's typically excited and making faux pas's, while Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Willow (Alyson Hannigan) hate their wine green bridesmaids dresses. Meanwhile, Xander is psyching himself up for walking down the aisle and proclaiming his self-written vows, but it thrown a curveball when an old man, claiming to be his future self, arrives at the church and gives Xander a glimpse of married life decades from now. And the upshot is he'll become a couch potato married to a tetchy wife, in a loveless relationship, burdened by two screaming kids who don't even like each other.

"Hell's Bells" was BtVS ticking off all the clichés of an anxious wedding day, pivoting on the fact the groom gets cold feet and puts the ceremony in jeopardy. On that level, it was predictable but a mild amount of fun. I just liked seeing Xander's parents, to be honest, as that's been a blind spot of the series (as far as I can recall), and the growing antagonism between the bride and groom halves of the congregation was amusing to me. I also liked the idea of Xander meeting himself, despite it eventually being revealed that Future Xander was merely an erstwhile victim of Anya's from her days as a vengeance demon, looking for a chance to avenge his mistreatment. And that killed a lot of the episode, for me.

However, I was pleased the ending stuck to its guns. Xander realised his visions were false, but they were still enough to make him question the idea of marrying Anya at a relatively young age. (Although I don't fully understand his hesitance, as they've been together for years and seem like a very good match). So, Xander indeed jilted Anya on her dream day, and crushed his fiance's soul in the process—enough so that she may turn her back on humanity and revert to her role as a fearsome demon. It'll be interesting to see if she goes through with this, and if the Xander/Anya split lasts, but in some ways it would have been more interesting to just see them be married—as that's quite a shakeup to the Scoobie's group dynamic, no? It would inevitably make Willow, Buffy and Tara (Amber Benson) reflect on their situations as unmarried bachelorettes.


written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner • directed by David Solomon • 5 March 2002 • UPN

SAHJHAN: Angel. I guess I have you to thank for the whole mortal coil thing. Making me corporeal once again.
ANGEL: Yeah. I'll tell you what. You take me to the Quor'toth world, help me find my son, we'll call it even.
If my problems with BtVS this year revolve around its inability live up to its own ambitions, Angel is doing a much better job at enveloping its characters into a nightmarish world. After the events of "Sleep Tight", it was hard to imagine what form the next episode would take. Wes (Alexis Denisoff) betrayed Angel (David Boreanaz) by kidnapping his baby son, which ultimately led to him having his throat slashed, and Angel watching helplessly as nemesis Holtz absconding through a portal to the hellish dimension Quor'Toth with little Connor. "FORGIVING" certainly had a lot to cover, and for the most part it did a very good job. There were no easy fixes, and I was excited by some of the storytelling changes that happened over the course of the hour.

Angel kidnapped Wolfram & Hart boss Linwood (John Rubinstein), to learn how to summon Holtz's demon associate Sahjhan (Jack Conley) and force him to reopen the Quor'Toth gateway so a rescue mission can be mounted. It worked, but a byproduct was restoring Sahjhan's corporeal body, so he become a physical threat for the first time in centuries. The backstory to Sahjhan also worked well, clearing up some nagging questions I've had about this whole storyline: it turned out Sahjhan has been fearing for his life after discovering a prophecy identifying Angel's son as the person destined to kill him, then later used his time-shifting to falsify a prophecy Wes believes was real and led to Connor being smuggled away. It was nice to have all that cleared up, as it now feels like a more robust story arc.

However, the real icing on the cake this hour was the brave and unexpected final scene. After Sahjhan had been captured in a special urn, thanks to brainwashed Holtz acolyte Justin (Laurel Holloman) switching allegiance, Wes was discovered and taken to hospital. And while it's customary for these shows to wrap things up nicely, with Angel having learned the extenuating circumstances surrounding Wes's "betrayal", the moment when Angel met with Wes in his hospital bed took a genuinely unsettling twist. Instead of forgiving him (a resolution even the title of the episode subconsciously nudged us towards expecting), Angel instead tried to suffocate his best-friend—screaming "You're a dead man, Pryce! You're Dead!" I mean, wow. One imagines they're going to patch things up, as there are two more seasons left, but that was a big shock. A sign that Angel is developing into the darker, unpredictable drama I think it always wanted to be. In contrast to BtVS, which has aspirations to grow mature but is simply better at being breezy fun.


written by Jeffrey Bell • directed by Turi Meyer • 15 April 2002 • The WB