Monthly Archives: August 2011

Firefly – The Train Job

This is the first episode many people saw of Firefly, and it provides a great introduction to the show, perhaps even a better one than the lengthy, morally ambiguous pilot. The narrative opening gives viewers a concise overview of the setting, and only one conversation (Book talking to Mal) sticks out as thinly veiled exposition.

The bar fight encapsulates many of the elements that comprise the show – the Western motif, the hint of Chinese influence, futurist technology, and a lost war. In fact, that scene provides a much clearer emotional picture of the war’s effects on Mal and Zoe than the long war scene in the pilot does.

I absolutely love Jayne in this episode. From declining to join in the brawl (but eventually doing so) to grousing about jumping onto a moving train, to his reactions to Simon doping him – all of it’s priceless.

Niska emerges as a very creepy villain, and you just know that not completing his job is going to going to come back to haunt the crew. And the “two by two, hands of blue” make their first appearance.

Zoë: Sir, is there some information, we might maybe be lacking, as to why there’s an entire fedsquad sitting on this train?
Mal: It doesn’t concern us.
Zoë: It kinda concerns me.
Mal: I mean they’re not protecting the goods. If they were, they wouldn’t be letting people past ’em.
Zoë: You don’t think that changes the situation a bit?
Mal: I surely do. Makes it more fun.
Zoë: Sir, I think you have a problem with your brain being missing.
Mal: Come on. We stick to the plan, we get the goods, we’re back on Serenity before the train even reaches Paradiso, only now we do it under the noses of twenty trained Alliance feds and that makes them look all manner of stupid. Hell, this job, I would pull for free.
Zoë: Then can I have your share?
Mal: No.
Zoë: If you die can I have your share?
Mal: Yes.

Mal comes across as far more humorous than dark in this episode. He also is more clearly a thief with a heart of gold, in line with shows like Leverage. Far more likable that his character in the pilot. In the pilot, other characters make reference to what sort of man Mal is, but it this episode, we get to see the man he is.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Beauty and the Beasts

I love the way The Call of the Wild frames this episode. Buffy’s voiceover sets the mood in much the same way that Angelus did in “Passion.”

It’s a tale of three beasts – two good and one evil. When Xander falls asleep on Oz duty, and a fellow student is killed in what looks to be an animal attack, the gang concludes that werewolf Oz may have done it. Though I’m puzzled that no one wondered why a werewolf would crawl back through the window and sit in a cage waiting for morning.

With Pete and Debbie being Scott’s friends, they were able to ease into the episode without screaming potential villains and/or victims (their appearance did at least whisper that, though). And Pete’s snide remarks about Buffy made you hope he would be one of the two.

And of course you know Mr. Platt will end up being a victim, because he connects with Buffy. I hate it when Buffy comes in to talk with him, almost in tears, only to find out that he’s dead. I wonder if she thought of him, years later, when she became a school counselor herself.

The scene in the morgue was hilarious. First, you have Willow keeping her evidence-gathering supplies in a Scooby-Doo lunchbox (a fun tip to the group that gave the Scooby gang of this show their moniker). Then Xander comes up behind her and is freaked out by the dead body. Then Cordelia walks into the room and scares Xander:

Xander:  We’re doing crime here. You don’t sneak up during crime.

And she in turn is even more freaked out by the corpse. Willow remains all business until it gets to her and she suddenly faints.

Angel’s reappearance sends Buffy reeling. After knocking him out in his beast-like state and chaining him up in the mansion, she heads to the library to do research. Giles finds her there in the morning. (By the way, when Xander confesses that he fell asleep while watching Oz, Giles yells at him. But when he finds Buffy asleep when she should have been doing the same thing, he doesn’t even bring it up. Or did he assume Faith was there the whole night?) Buffy says she had a vivid dream about Angel returning to explain why she’s looking through the books.

Buffy:  Is there a chance even? Could it happen?
Giles:  Well, there’s no record of anyone returning from a demon dimension once the… gate was closed. I can’t imagine how it could happen or-or why.
Buffy:  Let’s just pretend for a second that… Angel somehow found his way back to Sunnydale. What would he be like?
Giles:  I really can’t say. From what is known about that dimension, it would suggest a world of… brutal torment. And time moves quite differently there, so…
Buffy:  I remember. So he would’ve been down there for hundreds of years.
Giles:  Yes.
Buffy:  Of torture.
Giles:  It would take someone of extraordinary will and character to survive that and retain any semblance of self. Most likely, he’d be a monster.
Buffy:  A lost cause.
Giles:  Maybe. Maybe not. In my experience, there are two types of monster. The first can be redeemed, or more importantly, wants to be redeemed.
Buffy:  And the second type?
Giles:  The second is void of humanity, cannot respond to reason… or love.

Hmm, that whole idea of a monster wanting to be redeemed . . . does that explain Spike? The “void of humanity” phrase seems to point back to the Judge – he sensed the humanity in Spike but not in Angelus. (And I think Angel’s vs. Spike’s methods of regaining a soul would add an interesting twist to a predestination vs. free will theological debate.)

I wish the show had a better way of visually portraying werewolves – their “man in a furry suit” approach makes Oz and Pete’s fight seem laughable. But I love how Angel’s first sane actions are defending Buffy – and the first word he speaks is her name.

Warehouse 13 – Steampunk Secrets

Warehouse 13 briefly flitted by my radar when it first began airing, but the premise didn’t capture me and I didn’t recognize the actors. Over the years I heard mostly good things about it, so when an acquaintance recommended it, I got the first disc from Netflix to try it out.

The pilot was a little slow (being a double-length premier at 90 minutes long) but interesting. The two main characters had a Bones- and Castle-like opposites attract chemistry, and I loved their new boss’s penchant for retro gadgets and milk and cookies. The show’s focus on supernatural objects rather than supernatural beings helped it stand apart from other speculative shows.

Eddie McClintock and Joanne Kelly play U.S. Secret Service agents Pete Lattimer and Myka Bering, who are ordered to the mysterious Warehouse 13 after saving the President. The warehouse is managed by the eccentric Artie Nielsen, played by Saul Rubinek, who I know best from the pilot of Leverage (I’ve seen the pilot so many times I can quote just about every line). He tells them the warehouse stores items with unique or mysterious qualities, and their new job is to collect them.

The second episode runs a little tighter, and guest stars Tricia Helfer (best known for Battlestar Galactica, but she was also in several episodes of Burn Notice) as an FBI agent reluctant to share information with a team who can’t even explain their reason for being there. It was about halfway through this episode that I knew I would keep watching this show. And as the opening credits ran for episode three, I knew I loved Warehouse 13.

At only three episodes in, it’s hard to compare it to shows I’ve watched for years, but I’d put it on par with Alphas, a fellow SyFy show I’ve recently fallen in love with. Definitely better than my experience so far with Supernatural and Suits, though not as amazing as Veronica Mars and Bones. I love the steampunk feel and the sibling-like bickering between the partners, and in many ways so far the show seems like a weird mishmash of Bones and Angel (minus David Boreanaz).

But Netflix isn’t going to cut it, not if I’m going to be rewatching episodes with a friend. So I just bought myself season one.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Faith, Hope, and Trick

Yeah, it was only as I was getting ready to type the title of this post that I realized that “Hope” in the episode title referred to Scott Hope, the guy with a crush on Buffy. Sad, I know. However, this is only the second time I’ve watched the episode so it could have been worse.

Side note: I just reread most of the Buffy season 8 comics, and Scott is one of the few multi-episode characters who wasn’t deceased (presumably) when the show ended but didn’t show up in season 8. True, he was a minor character, but even Parker was referenced in the comics. But my main reason for mentioning the comics was to share this amazing poster of what season eight would be like as a movie (primarily the first 10 issues or so of the comics). Be sure to zoom in to get the full effect!

Out of all of Eliza Dushku’s characters, my favorite is Echo from Dollhouse. I think it’s because I get annoyed with the tough-girl attitude her characters often wear, but Dushku is stunning at portraying vulnerability. She gets to do that most often with Echo, but we get a taste of it here with our first glimpse of Faith.

Well, not the first glimpse exactly – for that we have crazy dancing, vamp dusting, and colorful storytelling. Since I know now that Faith’s from Boston, I was able to catch a few hints of an accent, but it seemed inconsistent (perhaps Faith’s trying to get rid of her accent and slips up occasionally?).

I find it interesting that Faith’s Watcher was a woman – was the show already setting up the Mayor as a father figure for her, and wanting to have him not compete with a memory? But I love Xander and Willow’s tour of Sunnydale High:

Willow:  And over here, we have the cafeteria, where we were mauled by snakes.
Xander:  And this is the spot where Angel tried to kill Willow.
Willow:  Oh, and over there in the lounge is where Spike and his gang nearly massacred us all on Parent-Teacher night. Oh, and up those stairs, I was sucked into a muddy grave.
Xander:  And they say young people don’t learn anything in high school nowadays, but I’ve learned to be afraid.

Mr. Trick seems to continue the trend of unique vampires (he’s no Spike however – the thing I hate most about season three is Spike’s absence for all but one episode). His techno-speak is refreshing after season one’s chants and rituals.

While Scott’s repeated efforts to connect with Buffy are cute, he pulled a big no-no – giving her the same gift her dead ex-boyfriend had. But it’s interesting to note the difference between the giving of the two rings. Scott’s is just a retro friendship gift for a crush. Angel’s is a gift from his past (perhaps the only untarnished thing he has from then) and a promise for the future to the woman he loves.

But my favorite part of the episode is this:

Buffy:  Angel was cured.
Giles:  I’m sorry?
Buffy:  When I killed him, Angel was cured. Your spell worked at the last minute, Will. I was about to take him out, and… something went through him… and he was Angel again. He-he didn’t remember anything that he’d done. He just held me. But it was… it was too late, and I, I had to. So I, I told him that I loved him… and I kissed him… and I killed him. I don’t know if that helps with your spell or not, Giles.
Giles:  Uh, yes, I, I believe it will.
Willow:  I’m sorry.
Buffy:  It’s okay. I’ve been holding on to that for so long. Felt good to get it out. I’ll see you guys later. (leaves)
Willow:  Giles, I know you don’t like me playing with mystical forces, but I can really help with this binding spell.
Giles:  There is no spell.

Supernatural – Skin

This episode started off with a glimpse at the middle of the episode (since it was a misdirect instead of stealing thunder from the climax, I didn’t mind), which seemed far more like an episode of Criminal Minds than Supernatural. That and the “normal” introduction to the attack – a friend falsely accused of murder – didn’t really influence me toward believing there was a natural explanation for all this. I hope Supernatural does throw in a few non-speculative scenarios eventually, if only to make red herrings less blatant. But in episode six of a show? The theory’s not even worth considering.

“Skin” did add a few twists to the shapeshifter trope. I hadn’t heard of the whole silver bullets thing to kill them before, but using silver to kill supernatural baddies is old hat. What impressed me was the whole “downloading memories,” thereby foiling the one easy way to tell the shapeshifter and the real person apart; needing the person to be alive to maintain the charade (unlike the First in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which needed the person to be dead to impersonate them); and the elaborate skin-shedding process (which was pretty gross).

I liked that this episode continued to build on Dean and Sam’s relationship, which still needs some work if I’m going to get addicted to this paranormal-battling duo. I hate that I’m still lukewarmish about this show. It’s been almost two months since I watched the first episode and this is only number 6. In that same amount of time I’d watched 4 seasons of Bones, or watched 5 seasons of Buffy and 2 of Angel.

What say you, Supernatural fans? Should I keep going or give up on the show?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Dead Man’s Party

Buffy’s back in Sunnydale, and this episode picks up a few hours after the previous one ended, giving us the opportunity to see everyone’s reactions to Buffy’s return. My favorite is Xander’s; how they almost attack each other and then just stare at each other, until Buffy decides to break the silence:

Buffy:  Didn’t anyone ever warn you about playing with pointy sticks? It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.
Xander:  You shouldn’t sneak up on people like that!

Of course, it’s a little less funny knowing what’s going to happen to Xander at the end of season seven. But the scene almost makes me want to be a Xander/Buffy shipper.

Speaking of future seasons, this episode serves as a microcosm of early season six – Buffy’s difficulty re-adjusting to the life she once knew, wanting to “leave” again, Giles’ joy at her return, her friends misunderstanding what she needs from them, and connections rebuilt by fighting bad guys.

I mentioned it in an earlier post, but I absolutely love Giles’ quiet smile of happiness in the kitchen. I also love how he seems to know exactly what Buffy needs at this point, even when the rest of the Scooby gang overrules him. In addition, it’s fun to know that Giles can hotwire a car. And I love how he goes after Principle Snyder at the end, smiling all the while. Plus this:

Giles:  Unbelievable. ‘Do you like my mask?  Isn’t it pretty?  It raises the dead!’ Americans.

I’m glad the writers deposed of Pat rather quickly. Like Ted, she was too annoying to make it through an entire episode. Makes other characters I wasn’t too fond of (such as Riley and Dawn) seem amazing in comparison. Buffy’s dream didn’t seem to have any reason, besides showing that memories of Angel are still haunting her. But the gang teasing Giles about the cat is fun:

Oz:  It looks dead.  It smells dead. Yet it’s movin’ around.  That’s interesting.
Cordelia:  Nice pet, Giles.  Don’t you like anything regular?  Golf, USA Today, or anything?
Giles:  I’m trying to find out how and why it rose from the grave.  It’s not as if I’m going to take it home and offer it a saucer of warm milk.
Oz:  Well, I like it.  I think you should call it Patches.

Oz:  We should figure out what kinda deal this is.  I mean, is it a gathering, a shindig or a hootenanny?
Cordelia:  What’s the difference?
Oz:  Well, a gathering is brie, mellow song stylings; shindig, dip, less mellow song stylings, perhaps a large amount of malt beverage; and hootenanny, well, it’s chock full of hoot, just a little bit of nanny.
Xander:  Well, I hate brie.
Cordelia:  I know.  It smells like Giles’s cat.
Giles:  It’s not my–

There don’t seem to be all that many pets in Sunnydale – perhaps because they’re easy bait for monsters? Willow seems to have most of them – her fish that Angelus killed, Amy the rat, Miss Kitty Fantastico. Drusilla had Sunshine for a bit, and the dog Rocky got killed in “Beneath You” – am I missing any others?

And I could probably write an entire post about the things people call Principal Snyder. This episode, even Buffy’s mom gets into it:

Joyce:  I’ve been on the phone with the Superintendent of Schools. At least he seems more reasonable than that nasty little horrid, bigoted, rodent-man.

I loved that Cordelia stood up for Buffy when everyone else was attacking her, even though her methods needed a little work. And we got a fun random appearance by Jonathan, too.

I felt it was pretty unrealistic that all the zombies disappeared – the mask simply animated corpses, so they should have just returned to being dead bodies once it was destroyed. Of course, that would have been fun to clean up and explain to the police. I didn’t mind there being zombies in this episode, but out of all the horror standbys (vampires, werewolves, ghosts, shapeshifters, creatures from other dimensions, aliens), they are my least favorite, so I’m glad they never became a main part of the show.

Firefly – Serenity

Other than watching “Jaynestown” a few months ago (as part of an effort to show Netflix that this was the type of show they should aim toward in developing original content), it had probably been at least a year since I’d watched any Firefly. My friend Anna had never seen it, so Sunday afternoon we turned on the pilot episode, “Serenity.”

Unlike those who watched the show when it first aired, “Serenity” was my first introduction to Firefly (not to be confused with Serenity, the movie, which I watched in its proper place after finishing the show). I think I fell in love with the show as soon as I saw Wash and his toy dinosaurs:

This is a fertile land and we will thrive. We will rule over all this land and we will call it… This Land.

Some people I’ve introduced the show to since then haven’t been drawn in quite as quickly, and while rewatching this episode I began to see why. Because the characters are so varied and complex, it’s hard to like most of them right away. In addition, there’s nine of them to get to know, and at first it’s hard to tell who are the bad guys and who are the good guys (especially with the good guys acting like bad guys quite often). Mal, in particular, doesn’t come off as someone you should be rooting for at first, stealing and calling Inara a whore and threatening to dump Simon and River off the ship.

I love how the show uses the dinner table as the place where the characters connect and feel like family. It also sets the stage for fun conversations like this:

Mal: Jayne, you will keep a civil tongue in that mouth, or I will sew it shut. Is there an understanding between us?
Jayne: You don’t pay me to talk pretty. Just because Kaylee gets lubed up over some big-city dandy doesn’t mean…
Mal: Walk away from this table. Right now.
Simon: What *do* you pay him for?
Mal: What?
Simon: I was just wondering what his job is – on the ship.
Mal: Public relations.

But that’s another way Firefly can be more of an acquired taste – many lines become more hilarious the more times you watch the show. Though some are great right from the start:

Mal: Can’t get paid if you’re dead.
Jayne: Can’t get paid if you crawl away like a bitty little bug neither. I got a share of this job. Ten percent of nothin’ is, let me do the math here… nothin’ and a nothin’, carry the nothin’…

The pilot manages to pack in a ton about the ‘Verse in just over 80 minutes – the Alliance, Reavers, border planets, backstabbing thieves, companions, shepherds, and real food being a luxury. But the story itself is only just beginning, so in a way this is more of a prequel. The best is yet to come.

 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Anne

And it’s onto season three! This was only the second time I’ve watched “Anne,” and I’d remembered it being sort of dismal, so I was pleasantly surprised at how fun the episode was despite Buffy hiding out and feeling depressed in Los Angeles.

First off, you get to see Willow, Oz, and Xander’s attempts to fight vampires in Buffy’s absence. Willow tries to copy Buffy’s style, and for a second you catch a glimpse of the uber-confident Willow of later seasons, but then normal Willow returns.

Xander:  Okay, and the, uh, second problem I’m having . . . ‘Come and get it, Big Boy’?
Willow:  W-well, the Slayer always says a pun or-or a witty play on words, and I think it throws the vampires off, and, and it makes them frightened because I’m wisecracking. Okay, I didn’t really have a chance to work on that one, but you try it every time.
Oz:  Uh, if I may suggest: ‘This time it’s personal.’ I mean, there’s a reason why it’s a classic.
Xander:  I’ve always been amazed with how Buffy fought, but in a way, I feel like we took her punning for granted.

This scene parallels the season two opening, only this time Buffy doesn’t come waltzing back in to save the day. She’s waitressing in LA, living in a dingy apartment, and being tormented by dreams about Angel.

Speaking of Angel, this episode begins building some of the framework for his show – the Los Angeles setting, the clip of a girl standing on the street that’s in all the Angel intro credits, and the reappearance of Chantarelle/Lily/Anne who will be on a few episodes of Angel.

One of my favorite parts about starting a new season of a show is the new opening credits. Season three of Buffy brought a slightly updated theme song, and captures many awesome moments.

I love Xander and Cordelia worrying about seeing each other again (especially Cordy, since it’s uncharacteristic of her), and Oz’s many incompletes give credence to him being absent for most of season two. And poor Giles, trying so hard to find Buffy only to have Joyce blame him for her leaving in the first place.

This episode guest stars Carlos Jacott, who is also in the Firefly pilot (which I just watched and will be blogging about soon), and an episode of Angel (as Doyle’s ex-wife’s fiance). I guess he just has a villainous face (though in two of them that’s not even his “real” face).

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

I’ve wanted to post about this for a long time, but I wanted the story (and songs!) to be fresh in my mind before doing so. My friend Anna had never seen it, so showing her was the perfect opportunity to relive the wonderful musical that is Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

Behind the scenes TV Breakroom stuff, ignore this paragraph if you wish: When I create posts for this blog, one of the first things I do after typing in the post title is select categories for the post (so I don’t forget to later). Cross-genre titles like Dr. Horrible always bring a bit of a quandary. Should I stick this under speculative, with the whole superheroes and villains and freeze rays aspect, or should it go under comedy, as it’s clearly hilarious? Or should I create a new category for musicals? I nearly did that, until I considered that the only other show that was likely to go in that category was Glee. Then I got the brilliant idea to create a new category for web series – shows like The Guild which start out online-only until they get popular enough to get on DVD, but don’t ever make to TV. With more and more people watching their shows online, web series are only going to grow and get better. I may not put all made-for-the-internet shows in this category, as I believe many of them will be able to hold their own in more descriptive genre categories, but it will be more for those shows with episodes that are shorter than than typical TV episodes (like The Guild) or shows that are standalone episodes (like Dr. Horrible).

Spoilers below the video for those who haven’t seen it! And if you haven’t seen it, why not? It’s free online in a number of places, and it’s your chance to experience a bit of Emmy-winning internet history. If you’d like a taste of what the show is like, without spoilers, watch the clip from the Emmys below:

The show starts out with a sympathetic villain (the titular Dr. Horrible, played by Neil Patrick Harris) practicing his evil laugh and connecting with his fans via a video blog. He has two goals in life – to be accepted into the Evil League of Evil, and to romance the girl of his dreams, fellow “laundry person” Penny (played by Felicia Day). But hindering him at every turn is his arch-nemesis, Captain Hammer (played by Nathan Fillion).

Dr. Horrible thinks that his two goals complement each other – if he can succeed at being evil, he’ll win her over. He sings about ruling the world with her, and later that, “She may cry, but her tears will dry, when I hand her the keys to a shiny new Australia.” (Bonus points for working the word “shiny” into the episode.) But the song “On the Rise” clearly shows how opposite their worldviews are.

Yet you still think of it as a comedy, where the underdog will, despite himself, win the day and get the girl in the end. But it isn’t. And that’s why the ending is so shocking, yet so right. Only one of Dr. Horrible’s goals can work out. He can choose to redeem himself, and win Penny, or he can be evil enough to join the League, and lose her. He fails to see that Captain Hammer really isn’t his nemesis, but it’s himself. Penny would have realized Hammer’s shortcomings soon enough.

But Dr. Horrible takes the direct path to what he wants – he has to kill someone to get into the League, and he can’t date Penny because she’s dating Captain Hammer. Killing Hammer solves all his problems. Yet in a cruel twist, the person who dies isn’t the man that he hates. It’s the woman that he loves.

And as he stands in shock next to Penny’s broken body, he sings, “Here lies everything, the world I wanted at my feet.” The next lines show that he’s talking about finally making it into the League, but the double meaning in the lyrics is clear. And in that moment, when choice is ripped away, he realizes that he would have chosen her.

Now villainy is all he has left. He changes his white lab coat for one that’s blood-red, and hides his eyes from the world. Yet in his final video blog, he’s dressed as Billy. And completely numb.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog cemented my Joss Whedon fandom. Before watching it, I was a Firefly fan, afterwards, I was willing to try out whatever his creative genius came up with. The show also led me to discover Felicia Day’s The Guild, and Neil Patrick Harris’ How I Met Your Mother. Also of note, Dr. Horrible’s sidekick, Moist, is played by Simon Helburg, Howard on The Big Bang Theory.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Becoming

“Part One”

This is the first of the show’s flashback episodes, giving us a glimpse of significant moments in Angel’s, Drusilla’s, and Buffy’s past. Whistler narrates this episode, giving the whole thing a sense of inescapable destiny. He was actually supposed to move to Angel, but the actor wasn’t able to do the show, so the writers created the character of Doyle instead. I’m glad, since I think Whistler might have been too stuffy for a show that was already pretty dark.

We see Angel’s beginnings as a drunken lout all too willing to take Darla’s offer to show him the world. Right before she kills him, she says, “Close your eyes,” which will parallel Buffy’s words in the next episode. The scene showing Angel’s initial confusion after being cursed also sets up that scene.

Watching the scenes with Buffy being told she is the Slayer, after now having seen the (terrible) movie and read the comic, makes me wish they would have remade the movie with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Joss Whedon’s orginal screenplay. I’m curious to see what the remake they’re doing now will be like. Even though there’s been huge fuss about Joss not being involved, it sounds like it’s more his busy schedule than their outright snubbing. I know it won’t hold a candle to the TV series, but it has to be better than the original movie, right?

I love how Xander acts out the battle in the cemetery with fish sticks and a toothpick – “Die! Die! Die! Aah! Mother!” And Oz is back, though only for that brief scene. Kendra returns too, and meets her untimely end (due to Drusilla’s hypnotic “cheating”).

Angelus:  Where?
Drusilla:  At the museum. A tomb… with a surprise inside.
Angelus:  You can see all that in your head?
Spike:  No, you ninny. She read it in the morning paper.

Only one more episode before Spike’s gone for nearly all of season 3. 🙁 But what is with vampires, always wanting to reawaken demons? And if vampires weren’t supposed to suffer in this demon dimension, is his soul the only reason why Angel will?

Spike:  It’s a big rock. I can’t wait to tell my friends. They don’t have a rock this big.

I hate the argument the group gets into over whether to restore Angel’s soul. The numbers seem simple – having Angel fighting for them is better than having him fight against them or simply dusted. And I don’t get why Xander’s more mad than Giles about Angel’s role in Jenny’s death, unless it’s not really about that. Yes, Xander was jealous of Angel from the get-go, but maybe it’s because Angelus went after Willow first. And he killed the last person who tried to restore his soul.

 

“Part Two”

This episode is one of my top five favorite Buffy episodes. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve watched it. So many aspects are completely amazing, and it finished off what many consider the best season of Buffy perfectly.

The only two things I didn’t like about this episode were the stunt actors for the sword fighting scene (after seeing it several times it became extremely easy to see which shots weren’t of David Boreanaz and Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Xander deliberately giving Buffy the wrong message from Willow. I can understand his motivation a little, being that he didn’t know about the whole “needing to kill Angel to stop Acathla” thing. He didn’t want Buffy to pull her punches while fighting Angelus, trying to buy time, which could get her killed. But I don’t think giving her the real message would changed what happened for the better. Best case scenario, Buffy would have been slightly more prepared for what she eventually had to do.

Everything Buffy has is stripped away, piece by piece, in this episode. Her fellow Slayer is dead. She’s on the run from the police. Her mother kicks her out of the house. The principal expels her. And then, when her wildest dreams come true and Angel is restored, she has to run a sword through him.

The music on this episode is breathtaking. Christophe Beck really outdid himself. From “Waking Willow” to “Vision of Jenny,” he captures the moments perfectly, and then finishes with my favorite piece of the score from the entire series, “Close Your Eyes.” And Sarah MacLachlan’s “Full of Grace” ends the episode beautifully.

Even despite this being a serious dramatic episode, the dialogue is full of zingers, like when Buffy catches Whistler at Giles’ house:

Buffy:  I have had a really bad day, okay? If you have information worth hearing, then I am grateful for it. If you’re gonna crack jokes, then I’m gonna pull out your ribcage and wear it as a hat.

Probably my favorite part of this episode is Spike and Buffy’s alliance. It’s hilarious that the first action Spike does for the side of good is beating up a police officer. And I love Buffy’s shocked face when she realizes Spike actually wants to help save the world.

Buffy:  Okay. You do remember that you’re a vampire, right?
Spike:  We like to talk big, vampires do. ‘I’m going to destroy the world.’ That’s just tough guy talk. Strutting around with your friends over a pint of blood. The truth is, I like this world. You’ve got… dog racing, Manchester United. And you’ve got people. Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs. It’s all right here. But then someone comes along with a vision. With a real passion for destruction. Angel could pull it off. Goodbye, Picadilly. Farewell, Leicester Bloody Square. You know what I’m saying?

And even more hilarious is Spike and Buffy trying to come up with a cover story for Buffy’s mom:

Spike:  What, your mum doesn’t know?
Joyce:  Know what?
Buffy:  That I’m, uh… in a band. A-a rock band with Spike here.
Spike:  Right. She plays the, the triangle.
Buffy:  Drums.
Spike:  Drums, yeah. She’s hell on the old skins, you know.
Joyce:  Hmm. And what do you do?
Spike:  Well, I sing.

Knowing how well Spike gets along with Joyce in later episodes (probably because she reminds him of his own mother), even their moments sitting alone in silence seem humorous. I was a little surprise that Buffy trusted Spike enough to leave him alone in a room with her mother. But it offered the opportunity for this:

Joyce:  Have we met?
Spike:  Um… you hit me with an ax one time. Remember? Uh, ‘get the hell away from my daughter.’

I love how Giles holds up so admirably under torture:

Angelus:  You know, I can stop the pain. You’ve been very brave… but it’s over. You’ve given enough. Now let me make it stop.
Giles:  Please!
Angelus:  Just tell me what I need to know.
Giles:  In order… to be worthy…
Angelus:  Yeah?
Giles:  You must perform the ritual… in a tutu.
(Angelus glares at him.)
Giles:  Pillock!
Angelus:  All right. Someone get the chainsaw.
Spike:  Now, now, don’t let’s lose our temper.
Angelus:  Keep out of it, sit ‘n’ spin.
Spike:  Look, you cut him up, you’ll never get your answers.
Angelus:  Since when did you become so levelheaded?
Spike:  Right about the time you became so pig-headed. You have your way with him, you’ll never get to destroy the world. And I don’t fancy spending the next month trying to get librarian out of the carpet. There are other ways.

And then comes the terrible, poignant ending. I think I could watch it a hundred times and not get tired of it. And the little “Grr. Argh.” Mutant Enemy monster adds a final touch when he says instead, “Ooh, I need a hug.”

Burn Notice – Eye for an Eye

This week’s episode of Burn Notice was chock full of extraordinary guest stars. To start off, there was Patrick Bauchau (pictured above), probably best known as Sydney on The Pretender (Jeffrey Donovan also was on several episodes of The Pretender, as Jared’s brother, Kyle). I watched about two seasons of that show with my family, until I started a full-time job and fell behind. I’d still like to finish it someday.

Spoilers ahead!

Though they showed a picture of Lucien Dobos, the watchmaker/bomb maker/war criminal Bauchau plays, last week, it wasn’t until Michael and Sam met him in person that I recognized the actor. That’s probably because his most distinctive quality is his accent. I love his accent! He should really do some voice work. At times in this episode, I was almost rooting for him as he matched wits against Michael. Too bad he was killed off at the end of the episode – I would have loved him as a reoccurring character. At least he and Michael ended up on the same side for the last few seconds of his life, just long enough for Michael to get another leave on Max’s killer.

James Frain, who I’ve seen on The Count of Monte Cristo and more recently on the short-lived superhero drama, The Cape, shows up as one of Jesse’s clients. And yes, he’s a villain in all of them. In a fun twist, his background seems ripped right from The Count of Monte Cristo, with Frain playing Fernand Mondego’s role. He left his business partner to rot in a Cuban jail, then stole his work and his wife. When the wife suspects someone is breaking into the house, Jesse and Fiona come in, only to discover the partner is simply trying to get his work back. They agree to help him, and what following includes a bunch of elaborate ruses, including Michael playing a crazy stalker.

The wife, Sadie, is played by the third guest star, Darby Stanchfield. She took me a bit longer to place, but she plays Shannon Gibbs on NCIS.

With all that going on in one episode, it’s not surprising that Madeline doesn’t make an appearance, nor Agent Pearce, Michael’s CIA handler. And is it just me, or is Fiona getting annoying in this season? Yes, we get it that preoccupied ex-spies typically don’t make good boyfriends. We know Michael would die for Fiona in a heartbeat, but must we stress in every episode how bad he is at the little stuff? It just makes Fiona seem whiny and selfish. But at least their being couple doesn’t ruin the awesome chemistry the team has together.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Go Fish

Season two’s final standalone episode brings forward an aspect of high school life that is almost overlooked on Buffy – sports. Aside from Buffy and Dawn trying out for cheerleading and the football game on “Some Assembly Required,” this is the only episode that gives much emphasis to Sunnydale High’s athletic program. But since none of the gang is into sports, that makes sense. This episode provides two other reasons:

Cordelia:  Well, all I know is, my cheerleading squad wasted a lot of pep on losers. It’s about time our school excelled at something.
Willow:  Hmm. You’re forgetting our high mortality rate.
Xander:  We’re number one!

So I guess it’s understandable that a lot of sport cliches get pushed into this one episode. Jocks’ popularity and sense of entitlement. Winning at all costs. Teachers pressured to give passing grades. Steroid use.

Only, since this is still Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the steroids have more than just their usual effects. The DNA-altering mix is turning the swim team into sea monsters. And who knew Cordelia could draw?

With the piles of skin and the half-eaten nurse, “Go Fish” is one of the show’s more gruesome episodes. Angel only makes a brief appearance, Oz is absent (again), but Jonathan has a couple of fun scenes. Willow interrogating him is hilarious, but I didn’t laugh because all I could see was her trying to kill him, four seasons from now.

After not showing up for most of the season, with this episode and the past one, Principle Snyder is finally making his presence known (likely building up for his role in the two-part finale). And Shane West (Michael from Nikita) has a brief cameo in the episode.

Xander and Cordelia’s relationship was fun to watch, both with Cordy’s new respect when Xander joins the swim team and her comments after she thinks he’s been turned in a sea monster:

It’s me, Cordelia? I know you can’t answer me, but… God, this is all my fault. You joined the swim team to impress me. You were so courageous. And you looked really hot in those Speedos. And I want you to know that I still care about you, no matter what you look like. And… and we can still date. Or, or not. I mean… I understand if you wanna see other fish. I’ll do everything I can to make your quality of life better. Whether that means little bath toys or whatever.

In the end, Xander saves Buffy, and the coach gets his own form of poetic justice. One thing I noticed this time watching season two – quite a few of the episode focus on Xander, and hardly any do on Willow. But of course that will all change in coming seasons . . .

Sherlock – 21st Century Detective

Words cannot express how much I enjoy this series. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman bring the Victorian detective to the year 2010 in a smart, witty manner. The first season’s three 90-minute episodes felt like a movie trilogy on their own, yet as soon as I finished I wanted more of this show’s particular brand of scathing dialogue and dry humor.

This post won’t be a proper review, as it’s been far too long since I watched the show and I’d like to comment on each episode in detail at some later point. But if you’re looking for detailed reviews now, go straight to my friend Ruth Anderson’s blog, where she elaborates on “A Study in Pink,” “The Blind Banker,” and “The Great Game.”

If you’re wondering how the tales translate into the present, just imagine Sherlock Holmes texting. And John Watson recording stories about his eccentric roommate on his blog. While I’ve never read an actual Holmes novel, from the bits I’ve caught over the years and reviews I’ve read, this show pays tribute to its source material in many fun and unique ways.

While I was aware of Martin Freeman’s acting in the past (primarily in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but I can’t wait to see him as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit), this was my first exposure to Benedict Cumberbatch (except for seeing him a minor role in Amazing Grace), but after this I plan to watch for his appearance in other shows and movie.

Season 2 (or series 2, if you’d prefer British terms) is filming now in London, though it was delayed a bit by the riots.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – I Only Have Eyes for You

This is one of my very favorite episodes of Buffy – and it’s not just because it features Christopher Gorham (Auggie on Covert Affairs). There’s a symmetry to this episode, sort of a poetic rightness. But more on that in a bit.

The episode opens with a brief scene at the Bronze, where it’s clear Buffy’s still blaming herself for what happened to Angel, and now to Jenny. (Oz is absent again – somehow I’d remembered him playing a larger role in season 2 than he actually did.) The story then moves to a couple fighting, which Buffy interrupts by kicking a gun out of the guy’s hand. A few more strange things happen, including Xander’s locker sprouting an arm and trying to drag him in.

Giles:  Ooh! Sounds like paranormal phenomena.
Willow:  A ghost? Cool!
Xander:  Oh, no, no. No. No cool. This was no wimpy chain rattler. This was ‘I’m dead as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore.’
Giles:  Well, despite the Xander-speak, that’s a fairly accurate definition of a poltergeist.

Giles thinks it’s Jenny, but Buffy’s flashback dreams and other clues point to a 1955 murder-suicide. Willow, who has taken to teaching like a toddler to a mud puddle, does some research via Jenny’s files and sites on paganism. (But didn’t Angelus destroy Jenny’s computer? Perhaps they were on her home computer.) But with the sites and the exorcism spell and the healing rose quartz and the scapulas, this episode seems to mark Willow’s first step toward witchcraft.

Xander:  Something weird is going on. Isn’t that our school motto?

Angelus, Drusilla, and Spike move into an abandoned mansion on the edge of town. Things are getting worse between Angel and Spike. Angelus is starting to act almost as crazy as Drusilla (which is saying something), recklessly provoking Spike while Dru loves it that her two guys are fighting over her. But Spike is not the sort of vampire you want to provoke. The murderous intent in his eyes makes the perfect lead-in to the season finale.

I love the feel of the 1950s flashbacks. The music, clothing, and lighting bring the period to life even though the building remains the same. Some of the paranormal occurrences look a little fake, but I thought they did a great job with Cordelia’s perceived disfigurement. And I believe this is the first episode where the mayor is mentioned, and it shows that Principle Snyder is afraid of him (knowing his fate, he has good reason to be).

The gang figures out the ghost keeps reenacting what happened that night, with the same result. (On another tangent, why hasn’t this happened before during the 40-some years since the incident? Is this the first year since then that they’re doing another Sadie Hawkins dance, and that’s what triggered it?)

Buffy:  He wants forgiveness.
Giles:  Yes. I imagine he does. But when James possesses people, they act out exactly what happened that night. So he’s experiencing a form of purgatory instead. I mean, he’s doomed to kill his Ms. Newman over and over and over again, and…forgiveness is impossible.
Buffy:  Good. He doesn’t deserve it.
Giles:  To forgive is an act of compassion, Buffy. It’s, it’s not done because people deserve it. It’s done because they need it.
Buffy:  No. James destroyed the one person he loved the most in a moment of blind passion. And that’s not something you forgive. No matter why he did what he did. And no matter if he knows now that it was wrong and selfish and stupid, it is just something he’s gonna have to live with.
Xander:  He can’t live with it, Buff. He’s dead.

My absolute favorite part of this episode is the climax, where Buffy and Angel act out what happened that night. Only this time, James chooses Buffy to play his role, with all her guilt about destroying the person she loved. And as the scene plays out, they don’t seem to be simply reciting events from decades ago. They are having the conversation they would have if Angelus could be Angel again, just for a few minutes.

Buffy/James:  You can’t make me disappear just because you say it’s over.
Angel/Grace:  I just want you to be able to have some kind of normal life. We can never have that, don’t you see?
Buffy/James:  I don’t give a damn about a normal life! I’m going crazy not seeing you. I think about you every minute.
Angel/Grace:  I know. But it’s over. It has to be!
Buffy/James:  Come back here! We’re not finished! You don’t care anymore, is that it?
Angel/Grace:  It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter what I feel.
Buffy/James:  Then tell me you don’t love me! Say it!
Angel/Grace:  Is that what you need to hear? Will that help? I don’t. Now let me go.
Buffy/James:  No. A person doesn’t just wake up and stop loving somebody! (Raises a gun.) Love is forever. I’m not afraid to use it, I swear! If I can’t be with you…
Angel/Grace:  Oh, my God!
Buffy/James:  Don’t walk away from me, bitch! Stop it! Stop it! Don’t make me!
Angel/Grace: All right. Just… You know you don’t want to do this. Let’s both…just calm down. Now give me the gun.
Buffy/James:  Don’t. Don’t do that, damn it! Don’t talk to me like I’m some stupid…
(The gun goes off.)

The “just wake up and stop loving someone” part is so perfect for Angel and Buffy, and the normal life part screams the end of season three. Yet to continue the perfection of this scene – this time Grace doesn’t die. Because Angel is a vampire and can’t be killed by a bullet. So this time, when James goes to reenact his suicide, Grace is able to stop him.

Buffy/James:  Grace!
Angel/Grace:  Don’t do this.
Buffy/James:  But-but I killed you.
Angel/Grace:  It was an accident. It wasn’t your fault.
Buffy/James:  Oh, it *is* my fault. How could I…
Angel/Grace:  Shhh. I’m the one who should be sorry, James. You thought I stopped loving you. But I never did. I loved you with my last breath.

Ooo, that last line is so perfect. All I can see is Angel in the alley, screaming Buffy’s name as his soul leaves him. But my heart breaks for Buffy, in that one moment after the kiss, when Grace and James’ spirits have gone. Buffy whispers, “Angel?” and for that half second you can see the wild hope that rises in her. Maybe Angel is back. Maybe he really does forgive her for what she did. But then he shoves her away, and she shatters.

Episodes Beginning with Flash Forwards

I recently watched a new episode of Leverage (“The Grave Danger Job”), and it started out with the scene pictured above – Hardison waking up in a coffin. Then the opening credits rolled, and the next scene had the dreaded words at the bottom: Two Weeks Earlier.

A lot of shows use this technique at one time or another, giving audiences a glimpse of the climax to hook them into watching the episode. Even the entire premise of How I Met Your Mother is based on this – the beginning scenes in many episodes are set in 2030, and the narrator in every episode is 2030 Ted.

For some reason, most of the time TV shows are structured this way, it really annoys me. I’m the type of person who doesn’t look at the last few pages of a book ahead of time, tries to watch movie sequels in the correct order, and puts off reading book two in a series until I’ve read book one. I feel these flash forward clips steal the thunder from the climax, and my interest drops away, both when they let me know that the next scene is however many days in the past, and when they return to the climax moment in the regular narrative.

Yet I didn’t mind when they showed a clip of Hardison in the coffin on a preview for “The Grave Danger Job.” So it wasn’t the spoiler itself that bugged me. Maybe I was bothered because it felt like the show was cheating to drum up more suspense, when it actually cheapened what would have been a great dramatic moment.

The only time I remember actually enjoying a flash forward beginning was on an episode of NCIS: Los Angeles. It showed one of the main team members getting shot, and it was only later revealed after the event replayed during the climax that the whole thing had been a con. So they weren’t only conning the bad guys, they were conning the audience too. I thought it was brilliant.

A recent study showed that people enjoyed reading a short story more if they’d been given spoilers about the ending or the climatic twist. People who love reading the end of a book praised the findings, thinking they finally had justification for their method of reading.

I disagree. Sure, they got more pleasure out of reading the story, but that was because the tension was gone. The suspense had vanished. Suspense is what keeps readers’ attention through a whole novel. Suspense keeps people glued to their seats in a movie theater. Suspense keeps viewers tuning into most TV shows each week.

Knowing the end and/or the dramatic twists of a story (whether told through print or film) also ruins any element of surprise. You can only watch something for the first time once. Why would you ruin that first time experience with spoilers and knowing the end? I would love to somehow remove a few of my favorite TV shows from my mind to be able to again experience the wonder and awe and surprise of watching them for the first time.

Not that rewatching a show is bad, just a different experience. When you rewatch a show, you have the knowledge of how everything will work out in the back of your mind, which does remove some of the tension. But you’ll have forgotten little details that will surprise you along the way, and hints of future twists will pop out at you.

So I think that’s part of the reason I don’t generally like episodes that begin in the middle of the action, then back up to the beginning of the story. The writers are trying to mix second viewing elements into my first viewing, and I don’t want them messing up the only time I’ll watch the episode for the first time.

Do you like previews of what’s to come later in the story? Or do you prefer letting things unfold chronologically?

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