Thursday 27 June 2013

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 4.3 – 'The Harsh Light of Day' & ANGEL, 1.3 – 'In the Dark'

Thursday 27 June 2013
Buffy: Harmony's a vampire? She must be dying without a reflection.

One of the worst episodes in quite some time, "THE HARSH LIGHT OF DAY" was a horrifically inert and tedious melodrama, which once again made Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) appear far too naïve and clueless for my tastes. You can argue that she's supposed to be strong, resourceful and confident in her role as The Slayer, in stark contrast to what she's like in everyday life, but I don't buy into that. Jane Espenson simply wrote her very poorly here, and I didn't find much about her romantic exploits with Parker (Adam Kaufman) especially interesting or involving—mainly because we barely know the guy, so it wasn't much of a surprise when he was revealed to be a love rat. Indeed, if you're not part of the Scooby Gang, chances are you're a terrible human being or a monster of some description.

There was a general attempt to split this story into three storylines for three women on the show, too, which didn't work for me in the slightest. Erstwhile demon Anya (Emma Caulfield) returned and demanded to sleep with Xander (Nicholas Brendon) in order to get him out of her system, but this was a poor use of her character in more ways than one. And the welcome return of Spike (James Marsters) was swiftly ruined by the news he has a new girlfriend called Harmony (Mercedes McNab), whom you probably don't remember from a previous episode last season. The joke is that she's an airhead who's deeply in love with Spike, who has very little interest in her beyond and is most likely on the rebound from Drusilla... but the joke wasn't very funny. Spike's one of my favourite characters on the show, but this was a weak way to reintroduce him.

With so much emphasis on three insipid love stories or wildly differing quality and screen time, the episode was bolstered with Spike's horribly perfunctory search for the Gem of Amara (a mythical jewel that grants vampires the ability to walk in daylight and become impervious). It sounds like a fun macguffin, but it only resulted in another of the show's oddly ho-hum fight sequences in broad daylight between Marsters and Gellar doppelgängers.

"The Harsh Light of Day" was a big misfire to me. I find it hard to care about Buffy's love life at the best of times, but the season just hasn't done the groundwork necessary to make me care about Parker, or feel surprised when it became obvious he's a promiscuous cheat.

written by Jane Espenson / directed by James A. Contner / 19 October 1999

Spike: Do you two need to be alone or can we get on with the ouchy part?

Much better was Angel's "IN THE DARK", which heralded the first active crossover between this new show and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Not only did laconic guitarist Oz (Seth Green) guest-star for largely pointless reasons, but Spike was the primary villain in a story that also revolved around his search for the Ring of Amara, continuing on from that same goal in "The Harsh Light of Day" (which aired immediately before this hour back in 1999). It was certainly fun to see the two shows mix together, although it also highlighted just how awkwardly Angel is trying to find its own identity.

There was a surprisingly violent sequence with Angel getting red-hot pokers thrust through his body by a spectacled torturer that made you see this new show in a different light, but then it was off-set by Spike making funny quips. I know Angel still intends to have humour and isn't completely divorced from the BtVS-brand of wisecracking comedy, but the mixture could be better. It doesn't help an episode when you have four characters who come from Sunnydale, either. It's a shame Angel doesn't have more new characters like Doyle (Glenn Quinn) around, but even he's written with a certain levity that suits the mother show better.

There wasn't much to this episode in terms of plot. Oz gave Angel the Ring of Amara as a gift from Buffy, and Spike arrives in the big city determined to get it back. The aforementioned torture scene was memorable, as was the vampire torturer Marcus (Kevin West), and James Marsters was on top-form as Spike. I very much enjoyed his introductory scene, standing on a rooftop overlooking Angel rescuing young woman and providing a comedic version of their conversation. However, it remains noticeable how many production errors Angel makes after the last episode with the camera crew in shot. This week there was a terrible angle on Angel with Marcus stood behind him, when Marcus was actually supposed to be in front of Angel preparing another poker.

But for the most part, this was a good episode in terms of providing an enjoyable crossover experience and letting Spike get plenty of good lines. Angel's reasons for not keeping the Ring of Amara even felt plausible, until you remembered that wearing the Ring during the night would also make him invulnerable—so surely it would be worth keeping it around for bodily protection, if nothing else?

written by Douglas Petrie / directed by Bruce Seth Green / 19 October 1999