Thursday 7 May 2015

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 6.12 – 'Doublemeat Palace' • ANGEL, 3.13 – 'Waiting in the Wings'

Thursday 7 May 2015
BUFFY: What's the deal with Manny the manager? And if I ask him really nice, can I write a children's book called that?
Interesting title aside, "DOUBLEMEAT PALACE" wasn't especially memorable. It was the very definition of a mid-level episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; mildly entertaining and with enough self-awareness to avoid going in a completely mindless direction, but ultimate not really as funny or sophisticated as it needed to be. That said, I really like this season's occasional dalliances with the idea Buffy's (Sarah Michelle Gellar) trying to get an ordinary job to pay the bills, because it theoretically means she can appear in a variety of different contexts and mix with new characters. A brief scene with Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) felling sorry for her older sister, whose role as The Slayer means she can never have a proper career because it would eat up too much demon-killing time, was also an interesting perspective to share.

The meat of this hour, pardon the pun, was Buffy finding employment in a local Doublemeat Palace, a fast-food restaurant managed by corporate stooge Manny (Brent Hinckley), and filled with staff who practically sleepwalk through their shifts and have a mysterious tendency to go missing and need replacing. Buffy immediately smells a rat, and theorises her boss is feeding his workers to the meat-grinder (the company's "secret ingredient" being human flesh, but is there a more sinister plan behind it all? Well, actually no—it's the work of a demonic lamprey, a beast contained within in the cranium of a sweet old lady (Pat Crawford Brown) who frequents the restaurant for cherry pie, but actually has a taste for the people who work there.

The reveal of the demon certainly worked in terms of preventing this story going down a predictable Soylent Green-style path, but in some ways the idea of Buffy coming up against corporate cannibals was a bit scarier. As if to compensate for that, the lamprey creature was one of the show's more imaginative creations—a H.R Giger Alien head on the end of a long tentacle protruding from its bald, eyeless human host—but a TV-budget circa 2002 wasn't really going to do that idea justice.

There were more subplots than I expected this hour to have, but only one really felt like it had merit. Willow's (Alyson Hannigan) gone cold turkey from magic and spells and appears to be getting over her obsession, but here the bad influence of Amy (Elizabeth Anne Allen) came back to tempt Willow into returning to witchcraft, by giving her temporary magical abilities to remind her of how amazing being superhuman was. It was a nice idea to give Willow 'one last toke on the joint', so to speak, but mainly served as a way for Amy to leave the picture—or at least be made fully aware she's not regarded as a friend any longer.

The other storyline with Anya (Emma Caulfield) organising her wedding to Xander (Nicholas Brendon) was less appealing, and only worth mentioning because of a scene where her friend Halfrek (Kali Rocha) arrived and reminded Xander that his fiance's pals are all ugly demons. Regardless of that, it's a definite worry that I barely remember Anya was once a demon anyway, and that her impending nuptials to Xander doesn't interest me in the slightest. Maybe that’s because it just feels preordained to fail, given what we've gleamed from their dysfunctional relationship.


written by Jane Espenson • directed by Nick Marck • 29 January 2002 • UPN

CORDELIA: I was the ditsiest bitch in Sunnydale. Could've had any man I wanted. Now I'm all superhero-y, and the best action I can get is an invisible ghost who's good with the loofah.
It's always been very noticeable that Joss Whedon-written episodes tend to be the best, or the bravest, or the more fascinating hours of either Angel of BtVS. "WAITING IN THE WINGS" is Whedon's only major contribution to season 3, as his attention was split between its parent show and developing sci-fi drama Firefly for Fox at the time, but it's another highlight.

Angel (David Boreanaz) reveals a passion for dance, having learned his favourite ballet company are in town performing Giselle (a show that moved him to tears back in 1890), and drags a largely reluctant gang to the theatre—although it gives Fred (Amy Acker) and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) a chance to glam-up, and for Wes (Alexis Denisof) and an uncomfortable Gunn (J. August Richards) to don tuxedos.

Naturally, there's a supernatural component to this work outing, as Angel notices the prime ballerina (Summer Glau) is the same girl he watched dance a century ago, and that the company's entire performance hasn't changed in all those years. After sneaking backstage to investigate with Cordelia, they're both temporarily possessed by the spirits of unrequited ballet lovers, while the others are attacked by the mastermind behind this freaky situation—Count Kurskov (Mark Harelik) and his masked, giggling minions.

My overriding thought on this episode is that the guts of the storyline wasn't very strong—it boiled down to The Count getting revenge on his unfaithful ex-lover, the prima ballerina, by making her eternally dance for him—and there wasn't really enough for every character to do. However, it's rare for Angel to have an episode that felt very different and was therefore hard to predict the outcome of... even if that outcome was a little disappointing. If nothing else, the performance of Summer Glau (making her screen debut) was pretty remarkable for a newcomer—and it's little wonder she's since become one of Whedon's go-to actors, winning the role of River on Firefly soon after, then appearing in Dollhouse. Her tearful monologue in the wings was soul-crushingly moving, and just felt more genuine than most "serious" moments the show has ever done. This role also allowed Glau to utilise her ballet training (which was fun to see); and I discovered later that Acker also wore tutu's for 15-years (her ballet background being the impetus for this episode), although her own dance sequence was cut for time.

I also really loved the feel of this episode: how the emotions of what was happening on-stage seemed to bleed into the events going on backstage, which really spoke to the power of theatre to bewitch audiences and make them feel like they're in a different place and time. Plus, it was interesting that Fred's beauty has now caught the attention of Gunn, whom she chooses over Wes; and that Angel actually made a move with Cordy, only to be interrupted by the unexpected return of her lover Groo (Mark Lutz) from Pylea.


written & directed by Joss Whedon • 4 February 2002 • The WB