Sunday, October 13, 2013

It's New To Me

In my years of TV watching, there have been tons of well-regarded shows that have eluded my gaze. Thanks to the magic of Netflix and other online streaming sites, I now have an opportunity to watch these shows and share my thoughts on them. It may be a classic to you, but It's New To Me!

Still a better love story than well, you know

Much like what Elton John said about Mars, the California suburb of Sunnydale certainly is not the kind of place to raise your kids, and as shown in these two episodes of Buffy, it doesn't seem to be the ideal place for a young person to cultivate any sort of meaningful romantic relationship. Both Buffy and Willow learn this harsh fact in the two episodes covered today. In the aptly-titled "Angel," our main heroine discovers the dark truth about the handsome yet mysterious stranger she's grown fond of, and Willow makes an online hookup that goes horribly wrong. And I thought my high school dating experiences were depressing.

"Angel" begins with the Master making yet another plan to take out the Slayer, who up until now has been decimating the ranks of his vampire army. Ignoring Darla's requests to take Buffy out, he instead charges an elite trio of vampires known conveniently enough as "The Three" to attack her. They ambush Buffy as she heads home from The Bronze, and Angel shows up to help her escape. They run to Buffy's house, where she shouts for the wounded Angel to come in with her, and he graciously accepts the invitation. Buffy offers to treat Angel's wound, and they share a brief flirtation before Buffy's mother Joyce comes home. She tells Joyce that Angel is a college freshman who is tutoring her in history and pretends to send Angel off when Joyce goes upstairs. She sneaks Angel up to her bedroom, where she tells him that she can sleep on her floor in order to be safe from the bloodsucking trio outside. Before going to sleep, Buffy asks him why he chooses to hunt vampires, but Angel is reluctant to giver her a straight answer.

The next morning at school, Buffy recounts her evening with Angel to Giles and her friends, much to Willow's delight and Xander's jealous dismay. When Buffy returns home, she sneaks some dinner up to Angel, who had spent the day up in her room recuperating from his injury. After she carelessly spills the beans about how she feels about him, Angel and Buffy share their first kiss. Angel pulls back after a few seconds, revealing his true face to Buffy, who now realizes that he is a vampire. She screams, and Angel leaps out the window and disappears into the night. Back at school, she consults with Giles to ask why Angel has been trying to protect her. Giles tells Buffy to stay away from Angel, stating that there are no "good" vampires and that they all are monsters driven only by the desire to drink human blood. When Angel returns to his home, he is confronted by Darla, and they reveal through their dialogue that Angel has been a vampire for centuries. Giles' research on Angel reveals the same information. He tells Buffy and the others that he was once known as Angelus and was one of the Master's most fierce disciples before swearing off the murder of humans upon their arrival in America over two hundred years ago. Darla finds out about Angel's feelings towards Buffy and devises a plan to have both of them destroy each other that involves attacking Joyce and making Buffy believe that Angel did it. When Buffy comes home and finds Angel holding the freshly-bitten Joyce, she immediately believes that Angel attacked her and throws him out. She is able to get her mother to the hospital in time to save her and then visits the library to get a crossbow to attack Angel with. While talking with Joyce, Giles discovers that Darla was the one who attacked her and runs out of the hospital with Xander and Willow to try to stop Buffy from killing Angel.

Buffy eventually finds Angel at the Bronze, which has been closed for fumigation. When Buffy asks him about his past, Angel states that after devouring a young Gypsy girl, he was cursed by her family. That curse restored both his soul and his senses of guilt and compassion, and from then on he has resorted to other, more humane ways to obtain blood. He swears to Buffy that he did not attack Joyce but that he is constantly fighting the urge to kill. They are both then ambushed by a gun-toting Darla, who not only reveals that she was the one who attacked Joyce but that she was also the one who made Angel into a vampire. Giles, Xander, and Willow make it to the Bronze and distract Darla long enough for Angel to drive a stake through her heart, killing her. The following night, in the newly-reopened Bronze, Buffy and Angel meet up again, where they both tell each other that they cannot have a normal relationship due to her status as a Slayer and his status as, well, a vampire, and they say their tearful goodbyes.

"Angel" is without a doubt one of the most important episodes of Buffy so far this season, and it offers a pleasant change of pace in that it didn't feature a single death of an innocent teacher or student (we did get a close call with Buffy's mom, but she turned out okay). Buffy and Angel do have a lot of genuine chemistry together to the point where I really did feel bad that those two crazy kids couldn't work out their differences. Of course, I realize that this isn't the last we've seen of Angel, given that he gets his own spinoff series somewhere down the line. The effective story beats and cute dialogue between the two doomed lovers almost make up for a couple of rather dumb plot details that slightly marred my enjoyment of the episode. I'm still not sure why Darla decided to attack both Buffy and Angel after originally planning to have them finish each other off. Maybe the Master was justified in not letting her try to kill the Slayer herself, since she's obviously not too bright, but it's not like he's had any luck with his theoretically more competent soldiers. One of the aspects that sets "Angel" apart from the previous episodes from this season is that it focuses more on horror and drama than it does on humor, aside from Xander's obligatory wisecracks. By making this a more "serious" episode, Whedon and company drive home the true danger that Buffy is forced to face every day and shows her just what is at stake if she wavers at all from her obligation to fight off the evil forces that threaten her friends, family, and fellow townspeople, which is yet another reason why Buffy chooses to distance herself from Angel. For adding a nice dose of gravitas and heartbreak to the mix, "Angel" earns 4 OUT OF 5 CROSS-SHAPED BURN MARKS.

Things get slightly less heavy in the next episode, "I Robot, You Jane," which focuses mainly on Willow and features a rather neat plot dealing with the Internet, which in early 1997 was still quite the novelty in American pop culture. It is also the first time a flashback is used in the series, and what a flashback it is. "I Robot, You Jane" begins in 15th Century Italy, where a group of monks cast a spell to capture a horned demon named Moloch in the pages of a large book, which is then sealed in a box. We then flash forward five centuries to present-day Sunnydale, where Buffy is seen removing said book from a recent shipment to the school library. Buffy and Willow are shown helping the school's computer teacher Jenny Calendar (Robia LaMorte) scan the pages of every book in the library in order to digitize the entire catalog, much to the chagrin of Sunnydale High's Luddite librarian, Rupert Giles. Willow stays late to scan the new shipments and unknowingly scans the spirit of Moloch into the school's database. When she leaves, the words "Where Am I?" appear on the screen.

A week later, Willow confides to her friends that she has been chatting online with a boy named Malcolm and states that they have been getting very close, despite never meeting face to face. Both Buffy and Xander warn Willow about getting too close to someone online, stating that this Malcolm may not entirely be who he claims to be. Meanwhile, we discover that two of Ms. Calendar's most devoted computer students have fallen under the persuasive sway of Moloch. The more intimidating student, Fritz, is charged with keeping an eye on Buffy, whom Moloch has already isolated as a possible threat to his evil plans. In an attempt to look out for Willow and ease her own anxieties about Malcolm, Buffy approaches another computer student named Dave in order to see if he can help her find out who Malcolm is, and Dave angrily shouts at her to leave Willow alone. This of course arouses Buffy's suspicions, so she starts following Dave. Her reconnaissance mission brings her to a large building that was the headquarters for a tech company named CRD (Calax Research and Development), which had recently gone out of business. Buffy is surprised to see a number of people still working at a building that should have been abandoned, and we see that Fritz is one of the workers, as he is given a message from Moloch via his computer screen ordering him to kill Buffy.

When Buffy returns to school, she and Xander make a plan to check out the CRD building that night. Meanwhile, Willow gets a little weirded out when on an online chat with "Malcolm," he inadvertently reveals that he knows that Buffy was kicked out of her old school. Giles discovers that the book that once held the spirit of Moloch now contains no words and begins researching the history of this demon. Dave catches up to Buffy and tells her that Willow wants to speak to her in the girls' locker room, which Buffy finds out is a trap set up by him and Fritz to attempt to electrocute her. She narrowly escapes, and Dave is so guilt-stricken at nearly causing her death that he tells Moloch through the computer screen that he wants out. Moloch responds by typing a suicide note for Dave, who is then killed by Fritz. Buffy and Xander convene with Giles at the library, where he tells them all about Moloch, a demon with considerable persuasive power that feeds off of his victims' love. After finding out the Moloch is in the Internet, they attempt to delete the scanned file from the computer in the library, only to be faced with an image of Moloch warning them to stay away from Willow. Buffy then realizes that "Malcolm" is actually Moloch. Giles states that now that Moloch has access to all the information that can be found on the Internet, there is no limit to the damage he can do to the world.

Buffy and Xander go searching for Willow, whom they find out has been kidnapped by Fritz and taken to the CRD building. Meanwhile, Giles tries to get help from Ms. Calendar, whom he finds out is also quite knowledgeable about the arcane subjects that he studies. Dubbing herself a "techno-pagan," she offers to help Giles to create a binding spell that will banish Moloch. At the CRD building, Buffy and Xander find that Moloch's consciousness has been transferred to a giant robotic suit that bears an uncanny resemblance to the Predator's armor. The two faculty members' spell successfully casts Moloch out of the Internet and traps him in the suit, which is destroyed while battling Buffy when he punches through an electrical power line. As always, the episode ends at school, where all three friends jokingly lament their recent romantic failures and then silently let the thought sink in that they may never have a meaningful relationship while living on the Hellmouth.

While "I Robot, You Jane" is considerably less serious in tone than "Angel," it was a whole lot more fun to watch. I've always been fascinated with the idea of ancient demonic forces living in modern technology, so the villain featured here was particularly interesting to me. Plus, I appreciated that so much attention was finally paid to Willow, a character who up until now seemed to be grossly ignored aside from her computer skills. I also was pleased to see some added depth given to Giles, who late in the episode confides to Ms. Calendar just why he prefers books to computers in one of the most well-written monologues of the entire season so far. I was expecting to get further drawn in to this show and its characters the more I watch it, and it may be safe to state that this episode has made me a true Buffy fan. "I ROBOT, YOU JANE" GETS 4.5 OUT OF 5 "M" SCARS.
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