“My Buffy-Fest #2” 19th August 2011- “Nightmares” (#1.10) and “The Wish” (#3.9)
Welcome to the second instalment of a little on-going series I have featured in this blog that I like to call “My Buffy-Fest”; Firstly I would like to thank my readers for assisting me in choosing which episodes I should analyse; there are so many “fangtastic” episodes to select from and I can assure you if your suggestions aren’t present at this time I will most definitely keep them in mind for future instalments. The original and first of my Buffy-analysis can be found here: https://mshayleyr1989.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/my-buffy-fest-22nd-july-2011/. This month I have chosen to review two episodes that take our beloved characters out of context and out of character; what I love about Joss Whedon is he isn’t afraid to take his audience out of their comfort zone and force us to perceive things in a brand new light. I would say the episodes selected are moderately popular but aren’t considered “Big contenders” and don’t rank up there with the likes of “Hush” (#4.10 ) “The Gift” (#5.22) or “Once More With Feeling” (#6.7); they do however serve as building blocks for major storyline’s to come. Due to time constraints this month I am only going to look at two episodes instead of three; however I will make this up to you guys in the future; I have also decided to try a new format with this review in comparison to the last one. So without further ado, let’s sink our teeth into some awesomeness that is “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”:
- Directed By Bruce Seth Green (Not the dude who played Oz!)
- Written by Joss Whedon
- Original Air Date: 12th May 1997
Re-watching “Nightmares” was a bit of a blast from the past; as the episode opens the audience are presented with the “In every generation…..” sequence; for those who perhaps only tuned into the show by this episode at least have an establishing idea of what the slayer is and what is needed to know about Buffy thus far. We are presented with imagery that is typically associated as repellent against vampires such as weapons, a crucifix necklace along with sunlight over the graveyard. This sequence concludes with a powerful, strong image of Buffy holding a crossbow expressing the determination in her face and overall I just think its a powerful image of female strength; this whole sequence is incredibly nostalgic for me. On with the episode…as we begin; the setting suggests to the audience that we are witnessing a stereotypical horror film; non-digetic eerie music is present, the lighting is dark with candles as the only light, this is in place in order to set a creepy tone; Buffy has finally come face to face with the Master, which is really dropping the audience right into the deep end of the action, leaving us pondering if this will be the final showdown? Buffy mirrors the stereotypical blonde, helpless horror-movie-style victim displaying a sense of vulnerability. I liked the close-up shot of the stake falling out of Buffy’s hand, as it created a bigger sense of tension and fear and implications that our heroine may now be helpless. This scene is reminiscent of older vampire films and I like the whole “Monster Movie” style it conveys. Fortunately Buffy was only experiencing a nightmare which for now puts the audience only slightly at ease.
A major theme in this episodes is the impact adults have on us and how they shape us especially male figures e.g. there is a lot of issues directed at fathers (Joss’s feminist views surfacing again!) and also the sub-plot of the pressurising little league coach. The foreshadowing of the episode is set up through a scene of discussion between Buffy and Willow regarding Buffy’s absent father Hank visiting for the weekend; the only information the audience has about this character is that he doesn’t seem to spend a lot of time with his daughter since the divorce; the second sub-plot of the episode is introduced when we meet Wendell, a fellow class mate of our protagonists along with our first glimpse of a mysterious boy; Wendell is attacked by spiders (a common figure of phobias); this moment occurs right before we are left on a cliffhanger while the opening credits and theme song plays; the audience are kept on edge anticipating what will happen next. I was intrigued by the next scene in which the Master engages in a conversation with the Anointed One on the concept of fear; I like this as it gives the villain of the piece much more layers and makes him a strong, three-dimensional character and all the more scarier; The Master insists that fear is simply psychological and can be controlled, a statement I agree with and I also find interesting the fact that the piece of dialogue was spoken by the villain indicating he is one step ahead of the protagonists as he knows fear better than most. What I enjoy about early “Buffy” is the contrasts between the underworld and the context of normality within the high school setting; this is demonstrated once again in “Nightmares” as the shot pans up from the Hellmouth to Sunnydale High. I like how the hellmouth is too close for comfort and adds edginess to the episodes.
“Buffy” episodes are filled with plenty of twists and turns to keep us on our toes and our first false assumption to throw us off track is when we meet an aggressive Wendell, he gives out an intense speech about how his brother’s lack of care for his pet spiders resulted in them haunting his dreams; leaving the possibility open that he may be behind the spider attack! Moving on; Buffy has a strange encounter during a spur of the moment “history test” and the mysterious boy from the beginning of the episode makes another appearance making it evident he is either the victim of the piece or behind the odd encounters, either way he is definitely connected; we discover later he is a young boy in a coma who was put under pressure by his little league coach who he envisions as a monster; the monster-of-the week is very a very stereotypical image of a child’s nightmare; he is ugly looking and aggressive. This may be off course but the story reminded me slightly of the “Supernatural” (2005-Present) episode “Bedtime Stories” (#3.5) in which there were strange occurrences due to a young girl being in a coma; she also kept appearing at every crime scene just like Billy; could “Nightmares” have inspired Eric Kripke to write that episode? Anyway Buffy’s father Hank is finally introduced; I thought it was a nice touch that when we first see him Giles is also in the scene, paralleling the two father figures in Buffy’s life. Buffy’s fear of her slaying being the reason for her parents marriage breakdown is now realised; the sense of disconnection between her and her father is demonstrated by the element of space between them when they are sitting on the bench.
I enjoy the possible “accidental” foreshadowing we get in this episode; Willow’s fear of being on stage was touched on in the epilogue of the previous episode “The Puppet Show” (#1.9) and returns again in the surreal, dream-like episode “Restless” (#4.22). Giles remarks “Dreams? That would be a musical comedy version of this. Nightmares. Our nightmares are coming true.” ironically in Buffy’s sixth season; as previously discussed there is in fact a musical episode and in the number “I’ve got a theory”; Willow sings “: I’ve got a theory, some kid is dreamin’ / And we’re all stuck inside his wacky Broadway nightmare.” I love how self-referential Buffy is and that it nods back to its origin’s in later seasons. I wonder if when Joss was writing this episode that he envisioned the musical episode as by this point as there was no guarantee how many seasons “Buffy” was going to be around for back in 1997.
I think my favourite nightmare sequence in the episode has to be Xander’s clown chase because it is dark humour/horror at its best. I also like it because it demonstrates strong character development as Xander decides to face his fear head on.
The Season Finale “Prophecy Girl” (#1.12) is also foreshadowed as another of Buffy’s fears is realised when the Master rises; I enjoyed the pop culture reference in this scene where The Master ironically quotes Disney’s “Cinderella” (1950) “A dream is a wish your heart makes”; his taunting demonstrates the contrast with the notion that the horror of the scene is not a fairytale and again supporting the idea of controlling your own fear or nightmares. Buffy’s harrowing nightmare of being buried alive is later re-lived in “Bargaining- Part 2” (#6.2) but for real. Giles experiences the nightmare of losing Buffy twice and a sense of helplessness that he could have done more for her. The episode also treats us to the first and only time we get to see what our heroine would look like as a vampire. Finally my favourite intertextual reference in the episode is when the conflicts are resolved and the nightmare realm has left the physical world; Billy finally wakes up mirroring the finale of “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) in which he quotes “I had the strangest dream. And you were there, and you”.
I think “Nightmares” does hold out a strong message; I like the fact Buffy inspires Billy to stand up for himself and not let fear over rule him. Real Power lies in facing up to your fears.
#Season Three #Episode 9
- Directed By David Greenwalt
- Written By Joss Whedon and Marti Noxon
- Original Air Date 8th December 1998
Looking back on the episode “The Wish” (#3.9) I think the best way I’d describe it is ironic. The episode introduces Anya for the first time as a kind of saviour for Cordelia following her break-up with non other than Xander Harris. The episode deals with the concept of an alternate reality and answers the question of what Sunnydale would have ended up like if Buffy had never arrived?
The episode opens on an establishing shot of a woodland area; primarily associated with horror; again, similarly to “Nightmares” (#1.10) discussed in the previous review; Buffy appears like the “helpless”, stereotypical blonde victim, being throttled by a demon; this opening is very tongue in cheek; Buffy’s attempts to instruct Willow on the necessary weapon needed fails when Willow misinterprets the word “knife” for “norf” resulting in a very funny exchange; I like this moment because it is classic “Buffy” at its best. Once the demon is ganked Buffy remarks how she appreciates Vampires as Demons have to be buried (Just thought I’d add that piece of info in!). I really like the moment that follows where Buffy tells Willow and Xander she doesn’t know what she’d do without them; this challenges the ideology of what the slayer is meant to be and what is to come later in the episode; it’s also a nice moment. “The Wish” follows the episode “Lover’s Walk” (#3.8) in which Cordelia and Oz discover Willow and Xander in a romantic tryst that had been panning out over a number of episodes prior; in retrospect Xander miserably fails to rationalise his actions while Willow takes a more logical approach in terms of wanting to make it right with Oz; highlighting the contrast in character traits between the two; Willow being the smart one and Xander more aloof. I felt it was bittersweet when they both turn to Buffy for advice on how to cope; after everything she went through with Angel; her face still displays raw pain. Moving onto Cordy; the imagery and mise-en-scene indicates she is acting upon witchcraft, it is implied as we see her burning a picture of Xander; even though vengeance is a key theme of this episode, what I love about “Buffy” is its use of using the “supernatural” as a metaphor; this scene could be interpreted either way by the audience; Cordelia is either acting on the craft or merely attempting to naturally move on by ridding herself of all traces of her ex; something admittedly we all do.
As a nice touch; Amy the Witch is referenced by Willow, I think this was added in to remind us of the previous time Xander and Cordelia broke up in “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” (#2.16 ) and how her character was a vital part in Xander’s attempts to cause Cordelia hurt; the other possibility of the reference is to suggest it isn’t the last we have seen of her.
Cordelia uses the classic “moving on approach”, consisting of a new makeover and a “don’t give a shit attitude”; she is however not as thick skinned as she appears to be. Harmony mocks her and cruelly attempts to humiliate her and an innocent Jonathan; through suggesting he’s the “perfect guy” for her. This moment foreshadows the events of future episode “Earshot” (#3.18) but until then this scene may lack relevance until its re-watched; in that shot of Jonathan the isolation is displayed on his face.
Oz and Cordelia are seen dealing with their situations contrastingly; Oz is distant towards Willow; I think the scene is justified but also frustrating as Oz and Willow are one of my favourite couple’s in the verse. Cordelia purely attempts to hurt Xander by implying she is already over him; which I completely empathise with on her part.
Anya was previously introduced as part of Harmony’s clique and seemed to instantly click with Cordelia; ironically as they both end up becoming ex’s of Xander’s. The focus on Anya’s necklace indicates to the audience she isn’t what she seems as she takes a forward interest in Cordelia’s plight. Again this episode holds strong connotations of feminism which I love as Cordelia and Anya rant about men. The scene then cuts to the setting of “The Bronze” where both Cordelia and Xander over-act and exaggerate how “okay” they are in an attempt to aggravate each other. In contrast the scene also demonstrates how the characters have grown up since the first season as Buffy remarks how uncomfortable she is with the notion of it being the “scoobies” against Cordelia once more; “Buffy” is just a fantastic series for portraying strong character growth and development and featuring characters with so many layers that I think from an actor’s point of view they possibly never got bored of playing their roles; also noted is Xander and Willow’s friendship has altered since the beginning of the series; however back in Season Two’s “Bewitched; Bothered and Bewildered” (#2.16); a more than platonic relationship was hinted at. The scene in which Cordelia displays hostility toward Buffy in the alley way followed by a vampire attack is reminiscent of the scene in the pilot episode “Welcome to the Hellmouth” (#1.1) in which Cordelia demands to know “What is your childhood trauma?”; indicating that the narrative between the characters has returned back to square one. The mise-en-scene features garbage cans in which Cordelia ends up getting knocked into mirroring how she’s feeling followed by Harmony mocking her; “dumpster chic for the dumped”.
Anya’s true form is revealed after she goads Cordelia into making a wish and the episode moves into the alternate reality. This episode shows the audience and Cordelia herself how important and significant Buffy is to the world. Harmony and her superficial gang seem slightly more mature in the alternate context along with the other traumatised Sunnydale residents who are living by rules and fear. The establishing shot of the car park pays homage to Zombie-style films with the sense of isolation presented and the idea of a “ghost town”. This may be a stretch here but I think that the fact Joss made the decision to have Xander and Willow as vampires in this universe is a metaphor for Cordelia wanting them out of her life. Similarly to “Nightmares” (#1.10) the fans are treated to seeing how Willow and Xander would be perceived if they became vampires. Vampire Willow is a great character and displays Willow’s hidden confidences (later revisited in “Doppelgangland” (#3.16). Xander is also more suave and confident as a vampire and Cordelia’s worst fear is realised when she sees the hidden sexual chemistry between the fiendish pair; highlighting her insecurity along with making her character more human instead of the “Prom Queen/High School Bitch” stereotype. We then cut to the remaining survivors led by Giles ploughing away as much as they can in order to save the world; demonstrating that his character as not altered in this reality.
The vampire lore in “The Wish” suggests that vampires are attracted to bright lights perhaps to show that they have taken over and no longer have to fear the small matter of a slayer on their backs. The camera pans showing the inside of the Bronze; taking the audience into the vampire’s world and shows us the dark-going’s-on’s and shady atmosphere. With the reveal of The Master it’s as if the audience is revisiting the first season; another compliment I must pay to Joss is that he always keeps is character arc’s and stories accurate; giving a sense of authenticity to the show; it really demonstrates how much he cares for his characters. The audience get the sense of what could have happened pre-season one. The Vampires are portrayed sadistically and calculating; examples of this are seen as the Master utters the line “ I’m trying to eat but she keeps looking at me” in regards to a helpless victim and Willow showing no sense of fear at the mention of the slayer; “Buffy; Ooo Scary”; Later in the series Buffy’s “superiority complex” is delved into; and Dark Willow’s challenges her on that; however in this reality the meaning of the slayer doesn’t hold up the same strength.
The Moment where Vampire Willow locks Giles in Oz’s cage in the library foreshadows her own fate in “Doppelgangland” (#3.16). I thought it was dark humour at its best when we see the Master has a blood machine in place of the domestic coffee machine appliance. The next scene where Willow taunts a vulnerable Angel; depicted as “Puppy”; brings in an interesting, strange and unexpected dynamic between these characters; usually they wouldn’t converse unless it’s in relation to Buffy; it’s also strange to think that Willow knew Angel first along with the connotations of torture, sex and violence between them; it was different and definitely shakes things up. Vampire Willow’s famous line of “Bored now” implies how tedious it must be for vampires to be stuck in all day attempting to give the audience an empathetic feeling towards them.
Finally we come across the alternate reality version of Buffy herself who appears hardened, serious, sceptical, straight-talking and impulsive. She possesses a scar on her top lip indicating how she has fought hard. We see how Buffy would have become as a traditional slayer who lives in isolation. As she enters the Bronze tension is heightened with the sound of footsteps and banging. Buffy and Angel’s characters are completely out of context and Buffy is not as empathetic to the fact he is a vampire like she has in the real world and she does not want to understand him. Buffy is mentally tougher in this episode; she is not reliant on her friends relating back to the opening scene of the episode. The Climax to the end of the reality world that follows this is incredibly intense as scenes cut back and forth between the horror of the Master’s actions and Giles confronting Anyanka. I thought the concept of the Master’s ideology of human mass production was entertaining and added some more dark humour especially when he drained the blood into a wine glass. As I stated at the beginning the episode as a whole is completely ironic as Buffy has to kill and let innocents die; she is faced with no choice due to the path she has taken as a slayer. Anyanka describes the “Brave New World” their characters a thrust into which is also ironic because later as Anya she embraces her human identity. Its surreal seeing our beloved characters killed out of context. The moment where Angel is staked is slightly reminiscent of the opening of “Surprise” (#2.13) in which he is killed by Drusilla and cries Buffy’s name. Several other powerful moments follow this; Buffy stakes Xander and Oz kills Willow which again is metaphorical for removing her from his life. The Master eventually defeats Buffy and snaps her neck; it’s a mixed bag of powerful, stunning and tragic; the line Giles utters “because it has to be” in response to Anya questioning him about what makes him think the other world is that much better is incredibly poignant.
The tone of the episode returns to a light-hearted state as the characters return back to reality; it is now greatly significant as Anya’s character arc has begun; irony again rears its head once more as Cordelia remarks she wishes that Xander will never find anybody else again. The closing of the episode focused on our three core characters Buffy, Willow and Xander brings the episode full circle and reminds us all is right in the world again and is the perfect closure.
“The Wish” is an entertaining, slightly surreal, ironic and a significant episode; it is a treat for fans to observe our beloved characters out of context and also introduced a fabulous character to the show. Cordelia also learnt an important lesson “be careful what you wish for”.
Hayley Alice Roberts.