Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Game Boy Color – 2000
Developed by: GameBrains
Published by: THQ Inc.
Written by: Andrew Brown, Scott Krager, Brett Bibby

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Where to even fucking start. Let’s do it this way: IGN gave this game a 2/10. And… that’s about it. I can’t even find other reviews. Not from “reliable” sites. Unlike the XBox game, this game doesn’t even have any people applauding it like its the second coming Christ… and Christ is bringing hot dogs. No, this is literally as if Satan pooped into a GBC cartridge, sold it to you for full price, and then, before you could put the cart in your Game Boy Color, he smashed it with a hammer. That is how bad IGN claims the game is and, you know, while I disagree 100% with their review of the XBox game, when it comes to this game we see eye-to-eye.

When I put down the money to buy this thing, I was dreading playing it for a completely different reason than the ones I had to deal with. Old Game Boy games sometimes replaced actual challenge with brain-numbing impossibility. I remember playing this game, Mystical Ninja game and having a bitch of a time because it was unforgiving, rather than actually a game that required you to learn tactics. So I figured this game was going to take forever to beat because I was going to die a ton due to ass-fuckery. And then, to top it off, when I borrowed by younger brother’s Game Boy Advance SP to play it with backlighting, he forgot to give me the power cord, so I had one full battery to beat the game on. I was doomed.

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Nope! Instead, not only is this game the easiest thing I’ve ever played, it is embarrassingly so. See, sometimes you play an old game and you are so good at games, now, that you breeze through it because, let’s face it, after 20 years of playing video games, you’ve gotten pretty good. Again, NOPE! Here, the game is just so… damned… easy.

In “BtVS” for Game Boy Color, you go left-to-right like a Mario game and punch things the game tells you time and again are vampires until they fall down. You whittle down their health bar until they can’t get up again and then you have a limited amount of time to stake them. Now, without an instruction manual I will admit that there was a moment of challenge where I had to figure out how to stake a dude after knocking him down seven times. But after that I was like “OK. This is ok”… but then you start to see the flaw, the one major flaw with the game… All you have to do is have a vampire on the ground long enough to stake him, which takes just as long as you take to crouch and press the button. Now, sometimes it takes a good number of punches to knock a guy on his ass, so, you know, it requires some blocking. Unless you sweep kick him in a corner and happen to already be crouching, thus making it the same button press for sweeping and staking, turning every fight into a one second brawl.

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Yes, this is not a joke. You honestly can knock ANY vampire down, no matter if they have armor, weapons, are a different color than the last one, or a different kind of vampire altogether, even the ancient robed guys that make up the end of the game… you knock any of them down in a corner and you have enough time to stake them before they get back up. So even in the last level, a burning wasteland of fire and death, giant skulls and temples, and torches lighting your way, even the guys that can seemingly channel pure energy into their punches are knocked down with one sweep of the legs and then staked unceremoniously through the heart in one smooth motion. Granted, this makes me feel like an accomplished Slayer, that I don’t have any issues murdering the shit out of vampires. But at some point I started to feel bad for these guys… they had a giant, grand plan to end the world and then they show up and Buffy and me are there. It wasn’t fair. It’s like a gang of 5-year-olds being lead by a really smart adult into battle with a bunch of war-hardened vikings. I don’t care how many kindergarteners you have, they are all getting beheaded. And you only fight one at a time, the whole game. There is no threat here.

The worst offense – the worst offense – is that the bosses are the same, though. And they even look unique… you have a mummy looking fucker, some kind of swamp monster, a samurai I think…? Witch doctors? It doesn’t matter, they all plant ass squarely upon ground and see wood separate heart (I think I had a “Spartacus” stroke…?!). And, get this…! Remember when I said it was like Satan literally showed up at the start of this review? Guess who the final boss is. I’ll wait. It’s Satan. A giant, traditional looking Satan. The game doesn’t come right out and say it, but its a giant red, winged demon with horns living in a lair of flame and despair. Its Satan. Or, at the very least, it is the only demon in the game. I actually started sweating bullets because I hadn’t developed any actual skills in this game, just sweeping the legs. Here I was, fighting something that I couldn’t just stake in the hear… Oh, no, you can. Sweep and stake. End boss, final boss of the game, dead in under 10 seconds. Hm.

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This flaw would have been forgivable, though, if the other two major flaws were present and accounted for: Bad writing and ugly as shit art. I mean, regarding the latter, look at that garbage. I mean, look at this garbage:
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That is Xander and Willow listening intently as Buffy talks. Or vice versa, I can’t really be bothered to remember this shit. It is so ugly that I can’t stand it. And look at those action screens. The world is so under-detailed that it makes me want to cry. Most of the time its either a black background for night scenes or a solid color background for indoors scenes. Even when you traverse the Initiative you don’t really see much but the same lab equipment being Flinstoned in the background. And while there is enough distinction in the bad guy models, it isn’t really like they are interesting to look at. I’ll admit, I was like “….dafuq?” when I saw the final boss, but that was maybe it?

The story takes place during S4 but fuck if I know where, exactly. Buffy has access to the Initiative, so it takes place after “The I in Team”, but there is absolutely no mention of Riley, the dude she is boning by that point. No talk of Adam, either. Hell, Cordelia gets some lines and she isn’t even on this show, anymore. Angel shows his fat head in town, but nothing about the plot of the season other than to confirm that it takes place after “Pangs” because they directly reference that episode. But, then, the mastermind of the vampire plot to end the world is Ethan Rayne, who was arrested by the Initiative back in “A New Man” so, fuck if I know. It is just a major fucking mess and I don’t like it.

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Bottom line, this is the worst game I have ever played. That is a title I don’t give out lightly. Other titles to hold that have include “A Bug’s Life” on Nintendo 64. It was an embarrassment to play. I hated having to keep track of level codes (that’s right, random letter combination letter codes). I hated that there were pick ups that I didn’t understand nor did I seemingly use. I hated that I never died. I never died. Came close once, but it was because the game wouldn’t let me get out of “block mode” and left me to crouch with my back wide open to an opportunistic dick vampire I named Ralph. I hated that even if you get knocked on your ass by a vampire, you just button mash and you get back up, with mostly full life. I hated that this was a “BtVS” game. I hate that 2/4 “BtVS” games have been pure garbage.

I hate that I am reviewing anything other than the shows…

Should You Have Even Read This?: Are you kidding me?! No. Jesus, no.

The I in Team
Written by: David Fury
Directed by: James A. Contner
Air Date: Feb. 8, 2000

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If there is anything that can be said about “BtVS”, its that there are constantly moments of hilarity during dire situations. Unlike “Angel”, in which moments of comedy result in sometimes grating experiences (check Wesley’s reaction to “attractive” women during a daring rescue), here we have legit comedy for the sake of comedy. But while there are gloriously hilarious moments watching Anya learn how to play poker or Spike have to get stuff dug out of his back, there are also great character and season development moments throughout the episode, as well as some action (and some action if you catch my meaning). Its also the episode where Buffy and Riley do it for the first time, a fact I’d forgotten and was immediately embarrassed about when I thought any second my girlfriend’s dad might walk in on me watching it. The slow-motion fight sequence paired with PG-13 nudity was not how I wanted to bond.

Buffy is allowed into the Initiative faster than lightning and is even allowed on patrol and hunts, despite the fact that she wears girly tops and refuses to use high tech gizmos to help her fight. This pisses off the black guy, Forrest, because he wanted to be Riley’s girlfriend, too, but now he can’t be. Sorry, Forrest. Sucks, I know. She pokes around, looks at stuff funny, and asks too many questions. Prof Walsh and some new jackhole scientist/doctor that we’ve never seen before comment that she is trouble and Walsh is like “uh, ok. Guess we’ll kill her” and sends Buffy into a trap while everyone else hunts Hostile 17: Spike. It leads to an intense brawl with two demons Buffy saw the Initiative holding in captivity previously in the episode and showcases her ability to think on her feet, using the defective shock gun to electrocute one in a puddle. It leads to an awesome moment where Buffy catches Walsh in a lie, thus destroying Riley’s faith in the organization and his mentor immediately.

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While all of this is going on and being overly straightforward, the interesting stuff is what is happening with the other characters, their development. In “A New Man”, we saw how Giles was dealing with being left out of the loop, but here we really get to see Willow trying to deal with making the best of a more-and-more Buffyless world. She is spending more time with Tara, her magical friend, and relenting how she is wasting her time waiting around for Buffy to need her. She knows she is useful, but she isn’t allowed an opportunity to show off her skills, and it depresses her. She is feeling lost and alone, too, because everyone else is starting interesting new phases in their lives: Xander has Anya, Buffy has Riley, and even Giles has Spike… err…

Speaking of Giles, his attempt to convince Spike to help the good guys from now on comically fails, but is so expertly played upon later in the episode when Spike reminds him how much he’d helped him previously. Giles directly quotes him, asking him if Spike had helped him “out of the evilness” of his heart. Spike, quick to laugh at his own genius, freely admits that, no, of course he’d made Giles pay him for the help. Damn. Caught in his own trap. I like this because its slowly developing Spike as a different character than what we’ve seen. Prior to this he’s been the ‘Big Bad’, a monster with no remorse, no pity, and the only comic nature he had was deceptive and cruel. Now that he’s neutered, he has to show a bit more of his humanity, and its charmingly played to a T by James Marsters who knows his craft.

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This episode also signals the death of a major character and the very first reveal of the main behind-the-scenes plot of the Initiative. The aforementioned “314″ that is scaring off demons, somehow, is revealed to be Adam, a mish-mash of monster and human parts that Walsh seems to have motherly feelings for (though Riley also calls Walsh “Mother” so, its all a bit too weird for me, anyhow). The demon she’d sent Buffy and the crew after had an arm she wanted to affix to her creation, but after her murder attempt fails, Walsh toys around with idea of activating Adam to hunt her down. Whoops, spike in your gut! And Walsh is out of here, too soon for my book. She was an interesting bad buy, someone who we won’t see developed fully.

So now we have our “Big Bad” of the season in place, and the tone shifts from set up to follow-through. From here its development of these themes, narrative choices, and character developments. We’ll see everyone age and grow, everyone in pain and living through suffering, and… well, OK so this is the same as any back half of a “BtVS” season, I suppose. But while other seasons, like S2′s “Innocence”, for example, changed the stage forever, this episode merely changes things for the “now” – by next episode, some of the things said will be taken back, some of the questions answered will be re-asked, and some of the answers given will stop making sense. Its OK, no one watches S4 because they think it is the best of the bunch. They watch it because it is fun and usually pretty decent. This is no different.

Episode Rating: 80

Additional Notes:
-Buffy lives Faith’s manta of Slaying making you hungry or horny by boning Riley after their first hunt together
-When did Walsh have time to set that trap? That iron gate?
-The mounted camera was a huge Chekov’s gun
-The Initiative, in civies, are like “no one will mind us” but then Riley’s shouting, like all “GET OUT YOUR GUNS”
-Xander continues to attempt to have a job, any job, by selling gross looking candy/energy/health bar things… gross
-Anya’s materialistic self comes through more and more
-The look on Giles’ face when he traps Spike is glorious
-The stupid moment after the ionization spell takes effect is less glorious

She
Written by: Marti Noxon and David Greenwalt
Directed by: David Greenwalt
Air Date: Feb. 8, 2000

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“She” is an interesting episode. It isn’t really “good” in the common sense, but it definitely isn’t “bad” in the strictest sense, either. It tells an interesting, sometimes compelling story, but with characters portrayed in ways I can’t tolerate. It has a message I can get behind delivered in an almost intolerable fashion. And it features great use of our core characters fighting bad guys that I couldn’t care less about if I tried. In every way, shape and form, the episode is a mish-mash of flaws, errors, and misguided narratives. But I think I enjoy it, still.

The parallel the episode tries to make to the horrors of “female sexual mutilation” is regrettable. I appreciate the narrative of having a male-dominated race of other-dimensional beings bearing down on the female population, and I appreciate the Whedon-verse’s determination to showcase strong female characters. And I can also appreciate Angel feeling compelled to helping Jheira’s mission to save her “sisters” by getting them out of their home world. But I guess, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really jive with me because I don’t truly care. The episode does a good job, no doubt about it, of driving home the major themes of the episodes and making the characters burden themselves with the responsibility of helping. But I’m not compelled, as a viewer, into their cause.

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I AM compelled, however, by Angel. His yearning for discovery and for putting together the pieces of the story bring me closer to believing Boreanaz, if he would lose a few pounds, mostly in his fat head, could be a decent Batman. Not only does he have the martial arts skills and the gadgets (TWO grappling hook guns?!), but his detective skills continue to shine. I’d never really thought about it before, his research abilities. On past watch-throughs I just would grin and say “plot device” every time they would find a clue or a lead or just look it up online. But here, I’m watching his years upon years of experience come through. Not much experience with his phone, however. But watching him track Jheira , follow her through the art exhibit, and then change his appearance and take on the role of guide was awesome. As was his comical commentary.

I’ve read a number of reviews, though, in my time of people bashing this episode to death due to the allusions to the mutilation aspect of the story, and, I guess, that’s fair. Its beyond blatant and in-your-face, so I can see where you might not like it. But why not dislike it for other reasons? Like the fact that Bai Ling is the worst thing to grace whatever show she ends up in? She can’t deliver lines because her accent is too thick. I constantly have a debate with my friends, whether foreign actors in films/shows in their native language are actually doing a good job or not. Are they good actors, or can we simply not tell how bad they are because they aren’t speaking English? Here, we can tell how bad she is because she IS speaking English. And for a character that is supposedly giving Angel cause for pause, she isn’t even attractive.

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Or how about the way that Wesley and Cordelia get held captive, pictured above? Jheira is like “naw, not turning myself in to save those numbskulls” and jets, leaving you, the viewer, to tense up; will they kill their captives now that they have no value? Oh, no, they’ll simply easily get out of the bad guys’ clutches and help knock some bad guys around. Nevermind. And I get that Wes is bookish, socially awkward, and easy to use as comic relief, but to immediately crash into “I’m gonna flirt with this girl immediately” is very weak character development for a dude that, at this point, is in dire need of it in whatever capacity he can get it. I dunno, and he’s so stupid, too. I mean, impossibly stupid. Wearing a fucking sweater to a dance party at his friends house? In L.A.? And he’s hot? What are the goddamned odds, moron?

I dunno, despite all of these gripes, though, I enjoyed the episode. I mean, I liked it. I liked the over-the-top-ness of the guy that was helping Jheira, to the point that I was gonna be sad if he died. I even liked the fight sequences and I really liked Angel’s goofy-as-hell moment of realization that he shouldn’t dance. I recognize that this episode isn’t good. It is barely average. But I should hate it more. But I don’t. Perhaps its the jokes, perhaps its the ever-present drive the Angel Investigations team has for helping those in need, or perhaps its the deepening of the lore by introducing the concept of different demon realms through portals, something “Angel” will deal with as a show for many seasons to come. I dunno, but I’m gonna give this episode a 76. Just, I dunno, because I had a good time watching it.

Episode Rating: 76

Additional Notes:
-Angel is supremely aware of his social retardedness
-Phantom Dennis helps Angel deal with being a wallflower like a champ
-Wesley’s demand for information about food is incessant. Poor guy must be starving
-First episode in which Angel is officially part of the team
-I understand that they were planning on having Jheira back, at some point
-Fucking glad THAT never came to pass, Jesus…
-”Angel” has always been better at using music than parent show “BtVS”

Expecting
Written by: Howard Gordon
Directed by: David Semel
Air Date: Jan 25, 2000

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This isn’t a very strong episode, particularly when coming off “Somnambulist”. “Expecting” just doesn’t really do it for me, though it has a lot going for it. I guess its just the obvious, over-the-head metaphor for “life on your own” and the dangers of unprotected sex that don’t really gel with me? I dunno. “BtVS” does constant metaphors with their monster-of-the-week episodes, mostly back in the first three seasons with its “high school is hell” motto. “Angel” works best, I think, in later seasons when its not so much about the day-to-day fight but about the bigger picture, the larger goal.

Here, Cordelia goes out on her third date with Wilson, played by NOW-veteran comedy actor Ken Marino. He’s some rich dude with a butt chin. She lets him sleep with her after a pretty comical sequence in which Phantom Dennis, the ghost from “Rm w/a Vu” tries to protect her and be a big brother to her. In previous viewings of this show I used to take his actions as jealousy, but when you compare them to the way Angel and Wesley attempt to defend her, the similarities are all present. Anyhow, she winds up REALLY PREGGERS and the Angel Investigations team are needed to stop the noise from killing her.

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In my previous review for “Lonely Hearts” I’d mentioned that I liked the fact that the monster never directly targeted one of the core cast until it was defending itself. Here, I understand that having it be Cordelia opens it up for something greater than simply a reason to fight a monster: character development. The aforementioned relationship Angel is developing (and Wesley is starting to, as well) with Cordelia is not one that makes you feel like they are going to want each other in a sexual way any time soon (no, that’s a few seasons for now, huh Angel?). It gives the characters a reason to fight but it also gives them bonding space, room to grow as people, and to be there for one another. On “BtVS” the writers do such a damned fine job of making a family out of those characters, and here on “Angel” they’re getting better at it, too.

Oh, the monster-of-the week. Right. I will give props to the team trying to think outside the box a bit and showcase a giant creature that Angel and friends could no way go one-on-one with. The Haxil beast, though, looks stupid as hell and I hated looking at it. The costume looked like a knock-off Black Lagoon creature. And to top it off, the climax of the episode was really stupid because not only did they defeat it in the dumbest possible way (Wesley talks to it until Angel thrown a canister of liquid nitrogen he happens to find at it, then Wesley shoots the canister, it freezes. Duh) but because the aftermath of it dying is stupid. Cordelia still had seven almost fully grown baby versions of the monster in her womb. It looks painful when they die, though we don’t know if they vanish or ooze on out. But it doesn’t matter, because she can just walk out of there like nothing happened. Its dumb and I hated it.

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On top of the dilemma of a bad monster, the fact remains that the metaphor for unwanted pregnancy is weak and underutilized. I understand that they only had one episode to cover it, but my god. Why not go over some of the other issues aside from fear? At the start of the episode Cordelia is excited about going out to party with her friends. How much of that will there be while she’s pregnant? Or maybe showcase that she can’t work? Be a productive member of the team? The downfalls of unplanned pregnancy are never mentioned, never showcased, and leave the whole episode feeling more gimmicky than anything else. And the staff that writes these things does such a good job everywhere else that its sad to see them falter a bit, here.

Overall, though, the episode doesn’t suck. It just doesn’t really stand out in any way during S1. Far from the worst episode but ten times as far from the best, “Expecting” kinda comes and goes and you don’t really care too much about it when all is said and done. You forget the name of the demon, you don’t think about the fact that the douche bag surrogates mostly get punched a bunch and then get away with it. And you don’t care about Wesley swinging his axe about the place. That works in its favor, though, as the stuff you WILL remember are the moments of development going forward.

Episode Rating: 80

Additional Notes:
-The women folk enjoy a good Hugh Grant impression, huh?
-Angel hates getting shot
-Angel and Wes go off to fight demons and end up in the wrong house. Funny that those demons were ALSO babies
-Wes does put up his dukes in a comical display of pathetic male showmanship
-It is weird seeing Ken Marino play someone who is not used for comic effect
-Cordy chugging blood
-The bartender asks if Angel is Cordy’s boyfriend. “No,” he says. “Family.”

Somnambulist
Written by: Tim Minear
Directed by: Winrich Kolbe
Air Date: Jan. 18, 2000

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This is a great episode, and quite possibly the best episode of Season 1 thus far. Its almost perfect. It’s also the first episode to really drive home the point that the first season – and in its own way, the entire series – that the major them of redemption circles around the idea of Angel vs himself, or, more accurately, Angel vs Angelus. He clearly has issues with his past, obviously, which have been touched on many times, but never firsthand. Here, with the introduction of another of his progeny, Penn (played by Hawkeye… er, Bourne 2.0… er, Jeremy Renner), we get to see him come face to face with his past in a more conflicted fashion than we did back in, say, “Ange” with Darla. While that episode presented us with some internal battles, it was subtle and prior to the major foundations of the show’s mythology. Here, the writers get to play with said mythology and the results are awesome.

The Penn vs Angel story, here, also leads way to the start of the Angel vs Kate narrative and, as I’ve said before, its the saddest part of the first portion of “Angel” as a series, because the Kate story gets to its best point, here, after Angel reveals to her his secret in order to protect her. But because she’s not stupid, she figures out who Angel used to be and she doesn’t really like that information, primarily because she believes Angel when he opens up her eyes to the supernatural side of L.A. and she can’t deal. Well, she deals the way she does with everything: anger and violence. Look at the way she solves the final issue, driving a giant wooden plank through Angel’s gut to get to Penn’s heart. She doesn’t care that she hurts Angel, even though she cares enough to not kill him. Its how she solves all of her problems and we continue to get the best development and, so, it sucks that her story ends up going nowhere by the end of her time on the show. Alas.

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“Angel” continues the Buffyverse’s great use of flashbacks and costumes, however, during Angel’s dream sequences. Showing Penn turning into a killer and Angel grooming him to kill his family and and friends, promising that family blood is “sweeter” and that killing his father, a man that Penn hates with a passion, is the way to go. So, the parallel, then, when Angel stops him from killing Kate is cool because – as he puts it himself – Angel is his new father. He turned him, so he made him. Penn has a serious problem with his father figures so he goes all out to not only hurt Angel, but to try to kill him. The confrontation at the end, though – while epic, brutal, and well staged, is not even close to as good as the tense showdown in the Angel Investigations office when Penn tries to get information on Kate. The other great moment is when he storms the police station and comments on Angel’s drawing of him. Its also tense and scary. I like it when these shows actually pull off “scary”.

The Kate relationship falls apart here and that’s tough for Angel. As much as he appreciates Cordelia (as per the conversation at the end of the episode) and as much as his relationship with Wesley will eventually start to grown, his connection to Kate has thus far been all about his connection to the human world on a consistent basis. Yes, he’s saved normal people a bunch, but they are day-by-day. Kate is there for his soul everyday. I do like to think that, in the time between episodes, they talk, they fight crime. You can tell they are friends because Kate “trusts” him, per his asking. So its tough for Angel to lose this friendship, especially now that, since Kate knows the world Angel is from, she is now prone to get herself into more danger.

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Renner plays the role perfectly and, you know, he’s not a bad actor. He comes across as sick and twisted but valid in his beliefs and his actions. He really hams it up from time to time, but its all within the realm of believability for a vampire character that has been around for years and years. I don’t talk about a ton of the acting unless its a guest actor that does a bang-up job. And he gets to play another of Angel’s blasts from the past, a kind of tradition for the character. Angel fights day and night to make peace in a world he himself has set to ruin time and again, but it continuously forces him to trade blows with his personal demons, whether they be Darla, Spike, or, here Penn. And it won’t be the last time, either, as in S5 we’ll see another of his “kids” come back to visit “dad”.

The first half of the season comes to a close in a bang-up fashion and I really appreciate the level of care the writers are taking to develop characters, themes, and plots here. I like “BtVS” — LOVE it, even — but I must admit, time and again, that “Angel” has a better sense of thematic truths than its parent series. The darkness, the yearning for redemption, and the depth of the characters themselves are all starting to show their strengths. While Buffy is busy making out and attending college, Angel is out there stopping demons from destroying a city and getting nothing for it. He loses his friends, he loses trust, and he has to deal with his past on a daily basis. His tragic stature drives the show. And its a drive I’m willing to join in.

Episode Rating: 98

Additional Notes:
-Angel suspect he is the murderer and so does Wesley. Cordelia is all pissed at Wes until Angel backs him and then she jumps ship immediately
-Angel takes Wes down in two seconds, however
-When Angel tells Kate how she doesn’t understand anything he grips her cross so hard it burns and burns. You know it hurts and that drives his point home
-Penn never knows about Angel’s soul; Angel never tells him directly and it doesn’t even matter. Makes the relationship better, anyhow
-The switch between Cordelia talking to an empty chair to talking to a chair with Penn in it
-Wes getting the wrong mail is hilarious
-I hated that stupid montage, though. REAL dumb

A New Man
Written by: Jane Espensen
Directed by: Michael Gershman
Air Date: Jan. 25, 2000

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Ethan Rayne, nasty dude from such episodes as “Band Candy” and “The Dark Age” gets his final on-screen appearance, I do believe, in an episode dedicated to Giles’ feeling of self-worthlessness. After attending a birthday party that Giles leaves Giles feeling alienated from everyone, he finds out that not only did Buffy know Riley was one of the commandos he’s been looking after, but that everyone knew, including Spike. And to top it off, he didn’t even know he was dating Buffy at the time. Compounded with the double-whammy of admitting to an adult that Buffy admires that he is her “friend” and that Prof. Walsh thinks he’s done a lackluster job as a father figure and you have a Giles who is very much at a loss for what to do with his life.

Enter Ethan Rayne, a man whose cunning is comically undone as Giles walks in on him monologue-ing. Rather than giving the poor sod a beatdown, however, Giles and Ethan have a few drinks, talk about the good old days, the bad recent days, and some information about a mysterious “314″ that the demon underworld is terrified of. Its a nice change of pace to see these two being friendly and you get a real sense of their relationship prior to any mother-fuckery that might have gone on in their past. Its hilarious to see Giles laugh off Ethan lying about poisoning his drink while he was in the restroom, and its equally hilarious to see Ethan strike out with the waitress while “Ripper” rolls his eyes. The difference in their interactions are cut short, however, because Ethan DID put a spell on Giles, and what a spell it was.

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If Giles felt distanced before, nothing would make him feel more apart from the Scooby Gang than turning into a flunkie demon that uses mucus as a weapon. The sudden transformation leads to some laugh out loud moments where he doesn’t know his own strength and destroys doors, phones, and even his own shirt. His attempt to get Xander to help him is also funny as he quickly learns he no longer speaks English, but a strange demon language instead, one Spike just-so-happens to understand. This leads to a tag-team effort between the two of them to find Ethan before he jumps town and a brawl with both Buffy and Riley to save his own life. Overall, its a nasty, stupid day for Giles, and one he won’t soon forget.

The nice thing about this episode, though, is that it shows – to us – that Buffy and co. don’t really dislike Giles or want to keep him out of the loop. Buffy admits that she didn’t tell him because it was a secret, at first, but then assumes that, since everyone else found out on their own, someone must have told Giles. But she then admits to Willow that she screwed up. And while we see her tenacity toward finding out where “the demon took her Watcher” it isn’t until she recognizes his eyes that we really get a sense of just how well she knows her father figure, and how much she means to him. Buffy can comment all day that it was the frustration in his eyes that really told her who he was, but we know its because of the love she has, the respect for Giles that came through.

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Elsewhere in the episode we see Buffy’s crazy driving, Xander continue to teach Anya how to be human, and – most important of them all – Willow continue to develop a relationship with Tara, the witch she met back during “Hush” – a very secret relationship. She has been telling everyone that she has been studying and researching in the library, but in truth she’s been going to Tara’s dorm to practice spells and magic, witchcraft that, as of late, hasn’t been going very well. She assumes its because of the horrible things Giles tries to warn them about, but there may be a more sinister reason lying beneath.

While this episode is mostly played for laughs, I have to admit there are some deeper levels here. Mostly the fact that Giles, who is often shown as a mature, infallible adult, is just as petty and easily hurt as the rest of us. The fact that he doesn’t want to bother Buffy with his doomsday prophecy in the graveyard isn’t out of courtesy to her, but because he doesn’t want to deal with her. If he doesn’t tell her, he is “getting back” at her somehow. Its human and its weak. And its true-to-life. I also think the makeup/prosthetic work in this episode is fantastic. You can still see Giles in there, though, which is the absolute best part of the episode. Anthony Stewart Head didn’t get the kudos he deserved for his time as our favorite Watcher.

Episode Rating: 90

Additional Notes:
-When Giles laments having demon urges and his desire to control them, he immediately jumps from the car, almost going “booga booga!” as he chases Prof Walsh down the street. Petty, indeed!
-Spike totals Giles’ car. That thing ain’t goin’ nowhere
-Giles owns a bunch of fake silver things
-Willow’s rose goes zoom-zoom-zoom in an incredibly cheesy and poorly CG’d scene
-I may have lied, by the way, on which Willow relationship I like the most. Sorry
-Where is Buffy’s mom?
-Getting close to the big reveal of this season’s “Big Bad”
-Ethan is all “you can’t arrest me” and then Riley is all “you are under arrest”
-Riley is a doof to Walsh about how much he likes Buffy and Walsh basically says he is a doof. Love it

Doomed
Written by: Marti Noxon, David Fury, AND Jane Espensen
Directed by: James A. Contner
Air Date: Jan. 18, 2000

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Coming hot of the heels of “Hush”, the start of “Doomed” covers, immediately, the conversation Buffy and Riley start to have at the end of the previous episode. Its strained and no one knows what to say. Kudos, again, for the writing staff for letting us see this conversation. Other shows might have moved right past it and then merely hinted at the things that were said, but it was pretty cool to see it in its entirety. Riley belittles Buffy a bit and Buffy gets everything right about Riley, right out the gate. Its a great conversation and the first time – out of three – in this episode that Riley doesn’t seem like the huge doof he really, REALLY is.

Later, after tracking a demon in a graveyard, Buffy and Riley come against each other at first in a near scuffle and then in a verbal throw down. Riley is now more sure than ever that he and Buffy would make a good couple, but she isn’t having any of it. All of this meeting at night amongst tombstones and punching monsters reminds her of Angel and all the times that she made out with that guy, but it also reminds her of how she gave herself to him and how that whole thing ended. She views a potential relationship with Commando guy as “doomed”, like the title of the episode. Riley, however, does his second non-doofy thing by suggesting that worrying that a relationship might not work is stupid. Buffy doesn’t like hearing her ideas are stupid, ever, so this does not immediately work for her as an argument.

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While all of this Buffy+Riley stuff is “interesting” the fact remains that the main plot of the episode is a horrendous mess of garbage. Some green demons are collecting absolutely nothing of interest (blood, bones, and a talisman) to destroy the world. There are some cute lines about it, like when Giles utters “its the end of the world” and the collected Scoobies stammer out a frustrated “again?!” – its nice that the show is so self aware but, lets be honest here, this is the third time the Hellmouth has been used as a means of destroying the world… the first when The Master wanted to use it back in S1 and then again during “The Zeppo”. Its a tired device. But look at the differences in its use: The Master works his way up to dealing with it all season long the first time. And “The Zeppo” uses the device as a comical backdrop to bring out some of “BtVS” tropes and memes in a tongue-in-cheek way of poking fun at itself. “Doomed” makes it very sloppy. The demons just need to jump into a hole to end the world. How? How does it work? Don’t ask because you ain’t gettin’ told, son.

During all of this, Buffy and Riley bump into each other one more time before the finale in which Riley flat-out tells Buffy that she’s self-centered and pigheaded about things, pushing him away because she has a belief and is unwilling to budge from it. This is something we’ve seen from here in many forms, whether it be about Angel being good in his heart or Faith being a bad guy, even when other characters are trying to find something to redeem in her. Once she makes up her mind, as Riley now knows, she makes it up for good. This exclamation ruffles her feathers and pisses her off instantly, telling him he doesn’t know anything and then shrugging him off, ticked that he got through and saw one of her many flaws. Its a great scene because its the first time someone has really told Buffy off about somethings he is wrong about in a long time and also because we finally get to see a part of Riley that makes him a human character, more than simply a dude with a doofy grin. But that’s the last of that, this episode.

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The other areas of the episode are kinda OK from here to there. Willow laments not having anyone in her life and goes to a party where she tries to flirt with a randomly-showing-up Percy, the jock she was tutoring back in Season 3. He says, behind her back, that she’s still just an unattractive nerd to him and this riles her up more than coming across a dead body which, in true “BtVS” fashion, is a great mix of comedy and drama. Xander, on the other hand, is now dealing with the 85th job he’s had all season and gets told what for, along with Willow, by Spike, a now “neutered” vampire that can’t punch people with his fists, but can still cut with his words. Claiming that the two of them are worthless and only allowed to tag along because the Slayer doesn’t have it in her heart to disappoint them and crush their spirits. Spike, as always, is being a prick, but its all from a place of truth.

Marsters gets to steal a few scenes this episode, particularly when, as pictured above, he says goodbye to Dru and attempts to stake himself in a comically awkward fashion. Speaking of comically awkward fashion, the shirts he has to wear are two parts ugly, three parts hilarious. But its the realization that he can hurt demons that really gets the best of Spike out there, as he punches, kicks, and beats the shit out of the stupid green monsters from the episode. His utterance of “I’M AN ANIMAL!” is pure and true and for a guy that was trying to re-kill himself earlier that day, its a very impressive change. The grand stupidity of the episode ends when Riley has to come clean about who he is after trying to lie about going to a paintball gathering of some kind in the middle of the night. Its funny and doofy. Told ya. Too bad the comedy doesn’t save the stale as hell background plot. Oh well, not a completely worthless episode, I guess.

Episode Rating: 84

Additional Notes:
-Riley asks if he knows Spike and Spike, in the best “American Accent” he has, says that is just a friend of “Xanderrrr’s”
-The demons have no problem killing and draining blood and desecrating bodies but they leave Giles alive. Duh
-Being back at the high school, by the way, is neat. I think we go back there once more before it gets rebuilt in Season 7
-Riley and Buffy, like Angel and Buffy before, have a theme. Its not as good a theme…
-That coffee shop is in EVERY episode. Period. If the characters are ever walking the streets at night, that’s where they go. Even as far back as “Lover’s Walk”
-Everyone in the Initiative think the Slayer is a myth. Buffy proves they are “myth-taken” —- shit, forgot that joke is used next episode!
-Why does Giles even HAVE the talisman?! Duh

Hush
Written and Directed by: Joss Whedon
Air Date: Dec 14, 1999

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“Hush” is one of those episodes that, once you see it, it sticks with you. I’ve often heard it described as a perfect “BtVS” episode to use if you are going to introduce someone to the series, due to the self-contained lore, the perfect use of characters, the lack of necessary backstory, and such a quality example of writing. Its also the series “silent” episode, that is to say, the magical properties of the “monster-of-the-week” (here, the Gentlemen) steal everyone’s voices (though it IS a touch sketchy in regards to gasps and deep breaths) so that they can’t scream while they cut into peoples’ chests and steal their hearts right out of them. Its very, very interesting and well acted, written, and perfectly directed. Its an all around great episode, one of the series’ strongest.

The plot is simple enough, so simple in fact that I just described it. But its not the story, or the awesome nursery rhyme, or the dream sequence Buffy has (she’s prone to those, remember?) or anything else that really gets people invested in the episode. No, rather its the seriously creepy bad guys, the actual scares, and the wonderful use of dialogue in an episode where it is conveyed through various means. Prof. Walsh makes a big stink about how what we say sometimes betrays what we mean, that communication gets muddled through the various means we attempt to utilize in order to accomplish the act. The example used, here, is when Riley and Buffy try to tell each other they have feelings for one another, but get sidetracked talking about, well, anything else. There are, of course, other examples as well (such as Anya wanting Xander to tell her how she feels about him), but this is the big one, and the one that ties the episode together.

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The best moments of the episode are too numerous to even list in a full review. I could go over every last detail, for example, of the classroom demonstration; the backwards slide, the blood and more blood, Buffy’s reaction to her bloated representation. But at the end of the day, we all know this scene. Its perfect, its funny, and its sometimes inappropriate. And that’s all well and good. But its the smaller moments, like Xander accusing Spike of stealing his voice and subsequently failing miserably to remember his lost voice when he tries to call Willow… its Willow writing “Hi Giles” on her white board… its the powerful and sensual introduction to Tara’s magical connection to Willow with the vending machine… Its all the small moments that really drive this episode and, likewise, make the characters feel human in an inhuman situation.

This episode also reveals Riley’s role, officially, in the Initiative. Well, at least to Buffy. And likewise, Buffy is outed as a Slayer. During the big, final confrontation in the abandoned clock tower (I wonder if you could put “abandoned” in front of any location and you’d find one in Sunnydale…?) against the Gentlemen and their lackluster goon squad (the only really negative thing I have to say about this episode is these lame assholes. They’re like different groups, the Gentlement and the so-called “Footmen”) they have to team up for the first time to stop the bad guys, free everyone’s voices, and unleash a strained scream to blow the monsters’ fucking heads up in a goopy fashion. Riley has no idea what he is seeing as she sends motherfuckers flying across the room with swift kicks, but he clearly likes what he sees.

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The end of the episode, after Buffy and Riley smash open the voice box (after an embarrassing first attempt, by the way), everyone is left to ponder what they just experienced. Anya knows how Xander feels, and likely Xander is finding out, himself. He’d beaten the shit out of a house-arrested Spike after he’d mistakenly assumed he’d bitten her. Willow has a new friend and a co-pilot in her magic using ways. Giles finds out that he can go black and then… no where else ever again, apparently. And Buffy and Riley have a lot to talk about. In fact, everyone has small conversations about their new-found discoveries, getting past the “demon” that is communication, the thing Walsh had mentioned before. They’re all able to push past the desire to hide themselves and really start getting it out there.

Aside from Buffy and Riley, who leave the episode in an attempt to talk, but they simply sit and stare across Buffy’s dorm room, waiting for the other person to start, first. Its a powerful image, to be sure, if not a bit rife with overplayed-hand-syndrome. Its neat because of all the obvious reasons, but the obviousness is not so overbearing as to wreck it all up. No, rather it adds another human level to the whole episode, showcasing that these two, two people who have had to lie to each other out of honor and duty, suddenly have a giant hole that they can’t fill with conversation any longer. At least, not goofy, doofy banter. The best part is that the following episode picks up exactly from here, so its nice that we actually get resolution to this. But that’s for next time.

Episode Rating: 98

Additional Notes:
-Riley’s dumb ass smile when he assumes he did good smashing that heart jar is so, so embarrassing
-Doug Jones plays one of the Gentlemen and he is bad ass if you didn’t know
-PS: Those Gentlemen are exceptionally creepy. Easily some of the best monsters in the series
-I like the TV station saying its an outbreak of laryngitis. Media. Pff
-What was Joyce doing all this time? Probably she was happy, Dawn-memory-wise, that the bitch didn’t have her annoying voice for a night
-Olivia, Giles’ black girlfriend, gets the best shot of the episode, though, with her reaction to those creepy fucking dudes creeping by the window

Parting Gifts
Written by: David Fury and Jeannine Renshaw
Directed by: James A. Contner
Air Date: Dec 14, 1999

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As a direct follow-up to “Hero”, “Parting Gifts” trumps every last moment the previous episode brought to the table. All of the emotion, all of the loss, all of the compassion for Doyle is used up in this episode, rather than using any of it during the episode he actually kicks the bucket in. And I know, I know… if they’d killed Doyle halfway through they would have had to spend the rest of the episode moping. But this episode doesn’t mope for long, and when it does mope, really, it spends that time by developing characters, relationships, and story lines. No, in every way, shape, and form, this episode is a masterpiece and a glorious send off, even without Doyle showing up, even in a flashback of any kind.

A empathy demon named Barney, played perfectly by Maury Sterling, is on the run from Wesley (yes, THAT Wesley) and attempts to hire Angel to protect him. This leads to the pair (Angel and Wesley, mind you) teaming up to find a missing demon that attacks them at Barney’s apartment. The revelation, of course, is that Barney was actually after the nasty demon for his horn, a demon body part that can steal life force. This is the same demon the pair left behind with Cordelia who – oh yeah – inherited Doyle’s visions. Barney, as it so happens, sells magic imbued body parts at a horrible auction at a stupid hotel where no one asks questions, though these people all look “normal” (by certain means) so its all good. The “eyes of a seer” go for a high price, mostly because Cordelia, in a comedic show of self-preservation, drives the price up. But who buys? A sharp dressed lawyer from Wolfram & Hart, the shadowy law firm we’ve been hearing of since the first episode.

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The narrative itself is pretty damn great, overall. The end fight, as well as the brutal-as-fuck fight in Barney’s apartment are all filmed and choreographed well, and – above all else – its interesting. But the thing that really drives this episode to such a high score is the way it handles the fallout of a main character dying. Cordelia laments the loss by looking for something – anything – that belonged to Doyle to remember him by. She’d just developed feelings for him and she regrets that she doesn’t have anything that meant something to him. She also has problems in her audition for a commercial, hilariously crying in a seriously human way before spazzing out from pain over her very first vision. Angel, on the other hand, hides his desire to be in pain in company as Cordy leaves for her audition and then shuts Wesley down when he offers to help Angel track a demon, stating that he won’t lose anyone else to the cause.

Loss isn’t only specific to our main characters, though; Wesley has to deal with the loss of being booted out of the Watcher’s Council after the events of Season 3 of “BtVS” – and, as such, kinda like Giles in his life a bit, he has to deal with losing his purpose in life. He hunts demons across country, but you know that, if this isn’t his first attempt at hunting one, he really sucks at it. He can’t keep track of which demon he is actually hunting, he can’t really translate that well, and, in a fight, he’s about as worthless as can be. Its awesome, knowing what I know about the end of the series, that we see his character reintroduced as pathetic and meek, overall. The development he goes through would be nothing of interest if he didn’t come from such a small beginning.

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Maybe the best two conversations, though, take place between Cordelia and the unwanted house guest, Barney. The first when she reveals to him that she received Doyle’s visions as the titular “Parting Gift” and then the other being when he threatens her prior to kidnapping her. The former conversation is actually kinda sweet and nice, and really provides Cordelia with a moment to realize that Doyle DID leave her something nice, though painful. She will carry a part of him with her for the rest of her life. The other conversation is equally awesome because it finally cuts deep at feelings the characters are having, even if its only with regards to Cordy. He pesters her guilt, her pain, and her sorrow, and messes with her by revealing the very human feelings we go through when we deal with loss. Its touching in its own way, and reminds us that even though we are dealing with super human characters, the word “human” is critical.

By the end of the episode, the first vision is framed, Wesley fills a gap, and the new core set of characters begin to flesh each other out. The episode as a whole is a breath of fresh air, offering fun as well as emotion. The previous episode faltered because, while it offered human emotion and pain and suffering, it lacked fun. It lacked Buffyverse flair and charm. I understand that sometimes the episodes are dark, but when its so over-the-top, its hard to enjoy watching it. I don’t mind “grim” narratives, but I really, really enjoy it when the story is enjoyable. This story covered sad topics while maintaining a balance. Kudos.

Episode Rating: 91

Additional Notes:
-The audition directors watch Cordy cry and are like “……interesting choice”
-Wesley’s rant about being a failure is the first step for him to develop into quite the badass later
-Cordelia kisses Wesley to see if she can pass the visions to him, and the kiss goes so much better than the last time they tried
-”What’s a rogue demon?”
-Barney gets a horn in the back
-Wolfram & Hart are going to develop from here into a series-long force

Hero
Written by: Tim Minear and Howard Gordon
Directed by: Tucker Gates
Air Date: Nov. 30, 1999
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As noted in my most recent comic review for “Earthly Possessions”, Doyle dies in this episode. And it is sad and it is heartbreaking and depressing, but it seems so monumentally uneventful, mostly because of the over-the-top Nazi-esque demons in “The Scourge”, a group of pure-blooded demons that want to eradicate all half-breeds. This entire story is so stupid and unnecessary, down to their stupid uniforms and the fact that the subtitles describe their marching as “Jackboots Marching” – I hated this whole thing. And the biggest thing about it is that the acting and the sacrifice Doyle makes feels legit. But when surrounded by pure garbage, who cares? Sorry you died, Doyle. Won’t miss you, though, because your final episode was a waste of time.

Maybe I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, here. Lets back this whole thing up, shall we? Doyle laments not being able to get with Cordelia because he’s nervous that, should she find out that he’s half-demon, he’ll be rejected (to which she comically states, later, that she’s rejected him for so many other reasons thus far, what difference does one more really make?). Just when he’s about to tell her the truth and get past his issues, he has a vision of a bunch of ugly ass fucks (half-demons, don’t remember their real names… Wikipedia tells me they are half-Lister demons. Woop) and Angel and Doyle check into the whole thing, only to find the oppressed Jew— I mean demons living under the floorboards, hiding from the Scourge, those Nazi-like dudes.

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This leads to a bunch of… talking and walking. And walking and talking. Its boring. Its drawn out. And its uninteresting. The Listers think Angel is a “promised one” and this stupid kid, Rieff, is like “fuckin’ no he isn’t” and runs off while Angel secures them passage on a freighter out of there. Doyle has to track down the kid, avoid shadows of bad guys, and get him to the boat before they all ship off. Meanwhile, Angel pretends to be a Nazi. Its all very charming, really. And by “charming” I mean I hate it and I think its stupid. To top it all off, the Nazi bad guys have a weapon that incinerates the half-breeds, like… I dunno, burning them in a furnace? I don’t mind the symbolism and the utilization of historical atrocities for building blocks, but when its this blatant, I don’t like it being shoved down my throat.

There are some additional bits of development for Doyle, here, like showing the worst-of-the-worst from his past (he’d let other half-demons like himself die because he didn’t want to get involved) and he comes to understand Rieff because he can elect to look human while the Listers can’t transform out of their gross faces. And he uses this development, as well as Angel telling him that you don’t know your strength until you’re tested, to develop courage, not just to try to help and not just to sacrifice himself to save his friends, but also to ask Cordelia out on a date. Of course, when he never had to work the courage up himself and she does the asking out for him, it eliminates the idea of what “courage” is, a bit, but its OK. Because he gets to kiss her and show him his spine-covered face, which she clearly doesn’t look that interested in.

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I may be a bit critical of this episode, but I don’t know. Even the first time I saw it, so many years ago, I hated the Nazi allusions, I felt that the death of a main character was overplayed within itself, and I didn’t think the characters were really true to themselves. I don’t think Doyle had earned his heroic moment just because he talked to a kid and saw Angel get mopey about Buffy. I don’t think Cordelia was really ready to make-out with him because he chased after a kid and then “admitted” to some secrets. And I don’t feel like Angel’s involvement with the Scourge lead to anything, really. I mean, if he’d spent less time dinking around with them and more time helping Doyle find Reiff, you could maybe have seen a different ending, where everyone gets to the boat on time and no one has to die.

There are some solid things in this episode, like dealing with the fallout of Angel seeing Buffy back in “I Will Remember You” and the stupid and cheesy commercial Cordy was trying to film. And the opening, narrated commercial was pretty damn great, too, as was the “Dark Avenger” aspect. But the rest of the episode lags, drags, and meanders about the place, treading water like it doesn’t want to kill Doyle yet, so it better stretch everything out another 30 minutes. I don’t mean to say I hate this episode, but I don’t really like it, either. It serves to get Doyle out of there and, I guess, in reading some info on why they elected to kill him, turns out Whedon and co. didn’t like writing him and didn’t feel he meshed well. Well, to you Doyle! You didn’t mesh well so they wrote a mediocre episode and got you off TV.

Woop.

Episode Rating: 74

Additional Notes:
-It does look nasty, the way Doyle dies. The way they cut to reaction shots and then back to Doyle, in a different stage of burning into nothingness, was handles well
-The boatman being a traitor was obvious and stupid. I hated it
-The Scourge are the same demons from “Anne” but in Nazi clothes
-Rats are low
-That Reiff kid a fuck
-This does leave a hole for Wesley to fill, though. And thank god for that
-There is a split second shot of blue light moving from Doyle to Cordelia. Get ready for season after season of Cordy getting vision

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