Thursday, 30 July 2015

ANGEL, 3.22 - 'Tomorrow' • BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 6.21-22 - 'Two to Go' & 'Grave'

Thursday, 30 July 2015
LILAH: Mind if I join you?
WESLEY: On many levels and with great intensity.
The big finale of Angel season 3, "TOMORROW", offered an enjoyable viewing experience, blessed by a fantastic cliffhanger that must have played like gangbusters back in 2002 (as there's subsequently been dozens of supernatural shows that've played with the idea of punishing a vampire with eternal incarceration rather than death). That Angel's (David Boreanaz) particular comeuppance came at the hand of his own son, Connor (Vincent Kartheiser), who found it easier to jump to conclusions about his adopted father's suspicious death, added a welcome dose of familial tragedy, too. You really felt for Angel when he was begging his brainwashed son to listen to his side of the story, as his coffin was being sealed and about to be tipped off the back of a boat into anonymous dark waters. It was a memorable and heartrending image to end on.

The rest of the episode? Mixed but good. The writing got so caught up bringing the Angel and Connor storyline to a peak ending that other aspects of this season's narrative didn't end here, or seemed to take unusual turns. I don't know why Groo (Ed Helms lookalike Mark Lutz) was brought back into the ensemble; beyond a desire to replace Wes (Alexis Denisof) to maintain numbers at Angel Investigations, and a way to try and keep Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) and Angel separated as potential lovers. Theirs being a love-story that's often felt too obvious and lame because I just don't see them as a good couple, but the writers apparently think otherwise. Turning Cordelia half-demon this year also felt odd, given that it's only resulted in her having random super-powers, and she now appears to have been chosen for ascension to a higher plane of existence. (This happens a lot on genre shows—remember Stargate SG1?) The contrasting imagery of Cordelia rising to the heavens in a beam of white light, while Angel sank underwater in a tomb of darkness, was beautiful… but in some ways only undermined Angel's plight. If Cordy's been chosen to become a higher being by The Powers That Be, I'll wager bringing submerge vampire friends to the surface is a cinch.

As for Wolfram & Hart this year, lord knows what's going on with those guys. They were pushed into the background by the greater entertainment-value of Holtz, but persist in occasionally poking their heads into storylines before Angel slaps them down. If they're supposed to be a potent ongoing threat for the series, it's not working for me. I find them amateurish irritants whose motivations are very hazy (why exactly do they hate Angel?) and primarily onlookers to events best-served by their absence. Wes "losing his soul" by sleeping with company girl Lila (Stephanie Romanov) and being wantonly dismissive of her after sex, was moderately interesting because it's so out of character for Wes—but also felt like a tease of a direction season 3 didn't have time for. It was a bit frustrating, really, and I'm still not entirely convinced by any of it.

But yes, great ending—certainly strong enough to make me curious about hitting play on the next episode.


written & directed by David Greenwalt • 20 May 2002 • The WB

WILLOW: Is this the master plan? You're gonna stop me by telling me you love me?
XANDER: Well, I was gonna walk you off a cliff and hand you an anvil, but it seemed kind of cartoony.
I'm going to review the final two episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's sixth season together, because "TWO TO GO" and "GRAVE" were effectively a feature-length closer. And that’s apparently how they aired in the U.S and UK, anyway. The first part continues the idea of Willow (Alyson Hannigan) out to avenge the death of her girlfriend Tara, which somehow hasn't been sated by flaying and incinerating the guy who actually shot her. You'd have thought that would at least take the edge off her anger, but apparently not. Willow heads into town, focused on killing Jonathan (Danny Strong) and Andrew (Tom Lenk) inside their prison cell, with Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Xander (Nicholas Brendon) in hot pursuit to try and convince their uncontrollable friend that murder and violence isn't the way to fix a broken heart. The hour was heavily weighted towards action, which was occasionally fun to watch but too often a reminder how far television's come in the years since BtVS went off-air over a decade ago. Hannigan was certainly having a great deal of fun as Evil Willow; dismantling a police station brick by brick, balancing atop a truck, screeching with prominent veins marking her ashen face. She chewed the scenery with great enthusiasm, but I just spent most of the episode wishing I could believe in her sudden transformation as anything other than a last-ditch attempt to ensure this odd season goes out on a high. The idea of one of Buffy's closest friends becoming the season's biggest villain is perfectly sound, but it's also very abrupt and not entirely plausible.

I get that Willow would be angry and in great turmoil, and that she may even want to use her magic to settle the score with the person who killed Tara, but the extremes she's going to just feel wrong. By the time she's belittling Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) about her earlier existence as a ball of "mystical energy", and fighting Buffy with the intention of killing her, I wasn't really buying any of it. If a well-liked character goes insane, it needs to be handled with a great deal more groundwork and care. Perhaps it would have helped if Willow's psychological break had been explained better, or some of her actions could be blamed on something supernatural (like a demon using her emotions like a parasite and amplifying her negative feelings), because I ultimately just found this direction a bit weak. Still, nice final shot with Willow being blown across the room by an unexpected energy blast that came from Giles (Anthony Head), freshly returned to Sunnydale and standing in the Magic Box doorway like the world's most disapproving father.

"Grave", the actual final hour of season 6 continued in the same vein as "Two to Go", only with Willow increasingly in strength after draining Giles of the magic powers he'd been granted by a coven in Devon before teleporting to Sunnydale. It was nice to see Anthony Head back on the show, too. I think the lack of a regular adult character's been part of the reason I haven't liked this season, although I also understand why his absence in some ways prompted developments that couldn't have happened with him around. It's hard for teenagers to grow and become independent with a stuffy English father figure tutting in the corner.

The X-Men 'Dark Phoenix'-style story with Willow about to bring the world to an end, driven by anger and grief, might have worked with a slightly different approach. I never once felt that someone like Willow would fling daggers at Giles' unprotected face, or entomb Buffy and Dawn, without exemplary reasons for doing so—which still would have to include brainwashing or possession for me to accept it, and simply losing Tara wasn't enough. I can just about accept she may want to settle the score with Warren, but going after her friends and becoming a walking villainess cliché? None of it worked for me, I'm afraid, but as a feature-length finale it packed in enough fireworks and melodrama to make the experience fun.

I also liked the final scene, with Spike being granted his request by the cave demon—only it wasn't the removal of his head-chip, but the restoration of his soul. Which I presume will counteract the chip's effect, allowing him greater freedom in who or what he kills? Or something. It was a bit unclear, but the idea of Angel no longer being the only vampire with a soul is promising for next season.

And here ends my weekly catchup of Angel season 3 and Buffy season 6, with only one more season of BtVS to go. While my enthusiasm for the latter show's dipped (I'd place season 6 slightly above season 1 in my rankings so far), Angel showed some welcome growth this year. But both shows look their age, as someone watching for the first time in the year 2015. It's sometimes hard to explain why I have such opposing views to a lot of fans, but much of it boils down to the fact I haven't had over a decade of turning the show inside-out in my head, neither exist in a chronological list of shows that influenced my tastes to come, and I'm not watching as the 23-year-old person I was back in 2002. I'm 36 and this stuff just plays different to a guy in his mid-thirties curious about the Buffyverse, who's spent the past three years catching up with things that are beloved modern classics to many readers.

Hard to say when I'll get around to Angel season 4 and Buffy season 7, but most likely after Christmas.


written by Doug Petrie (6.21) & David Fury (6.22) • directed by Bill L. Norton (6.21) & James A. Contner (6.22) • 21 May 2002 • UPN