The Dark Age
Written by: Dean Batali/Rob Des Hotel
Directed by: Bruce Seth Green
Air Date: November 10, 1997

Giles gets his first episode, and its a doozy. In “Halloween” we got our first hints that Giles had a dark past from his one-time friend Ethan Rayne. He’d called him “Ripper” and Giles ended up being more of an ass-kicker than we’d seen up to this point. Now we see some of that come out in front of the rest of the cast, particularly Buffy and Jenny (who are the most affected by this revelation). One thing I’ll immediately give this episode credit for is taking place only two episodes after the reveal of Giles’ dark past and nickname. Most shows would continue to hint and hint at it, without ever really bringing it to the center stage until it was time for a major episode or event. Think about Jacob on LOST and how they talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk about him for five damn seasons before he shows up… in the final episode of the fifth season. Here, they only needed to wait a bit and give a nice, soft reveal. Kudos to that.

The downside to this, of course, is that when the reveal is soft, it doesn’t pack much of a punch. This is the case, here, as “The Dark Age” really doesn’t have much going for it. Even at his worst, Giles is a pushover in this episode, stumbling around and not being even remotely threatening. The “Ripper” we saw beat Ethan in his shop a few episodes back is gone, here, now mostly a scared, sniveling mess. And I get it; Jenny, his love, is in danger and the only way he knows how to save her is to kill her. But later in the show these people deal with much greater threats and even Giles is there, strong as can be, ready to do the right thing. Here, he mostly whimpers.

The thing I have to remember as I watched this episode, though, is that it was a continuation of the development that these characters are going through. Giles had his dark past hinted at, and that thread is expanded upon. Willow has been more and more confident, and here we see that growth continue as well (I love-love-love that scene with her, Xander, and Cordelia in “her” library… totally thought Xander and Cordelia were going to start making out, by the way, even though I’ve seen this episode a few times by now). And the Watcher/Slayer relationship only continues to become more complex because of Giles’ past actions. There is even a hint at some darker Angel stuff this episode, like the fact that his demon still lives inside him – dying to come out and, of course, it well soon enough – and the fact that he knew the exact right time to be at the hospital for the blood drop-off? Says a ton. Yes, as far as the characters are concerned, there really isn’t anything awful here. Just the plot.

It just moves too slowly and the pace is all wrong. And, you know, I didn’t care. Three people are dead before the opening credits roll and the episode’s writing never gives me enough reason to care about them. I mean, the same could be said about any time people die on Buffy — usually they are characters we see once and then never again. But here we are getting backstory on a character that so desperately needs it. His old friends kicking the bucket should matter, especially since they are coming back from the dead to kill him. The interchanges between Ethan and Giles are nice and develop their relationship a bit more, but the demon they summoned isn’t interesting and clearly just wants to kill. With no other motivation to do the things it does, there is a serious lack of depth to its goals.

“The Dark Age” is just too much of a mixed bag to really get behind. It mucks around with itself too long before getting to its climax, and the aftermath of the events that transpire – while justifiable and well handled (I appreciate that Jenny is freaked the hell out by the experience and not ready to jump back on the Giles Train) – kinda dwindle out to the end credits. The ripples this episode creates will be dealt with for seasons to come, but here it seems like a tiny pebble in a vast lake… the displacement doesn’t seem that great right off the bat. Things to come are going to be much, much more interesting and all that, but it kinda sucks that the second season has these pockets of “weak” throughout. Hm.

Episode Rating: 75

Additional Notes:
-“Giles Train”!?!??
-The make-up effects were pretty solid, actually, for a demon in the second season
-Willow’s plan could have backfired so damned much. What if the demon had won out?
-Glad the Scoobies figured out that it was in Jenny as quickly as they did. Beating around that bush would have only slowed the episode down, further
-The music when “Jenny” reveals she is possessed? Shitty. Real, real shitty.
-The hospital parking lot fight is so dark, I almost couldn’t tell that it was SMG’s stunt double doing the brawling