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Monday, January 2, 2012

The Dark Age

[Updated April 29, 2013]

Buffy got the last word at the end of Lie to Me: “liar”. We have every reason to think her epithet referred solely to Giles’ description of life just preceding. This very next episode shows us that it had a much more general application. Giles has been lying to all of us, concealing his “Ripper” past. Like the statue of Janus in Halloween, Buffy’s word looked both backward and forward.


Giles is, of course, relieved when Buffy’s music ends in the teaser, but his words “the rest is silence” apply to Philip as well, as the flash cut shows the life being choked out of him, unable to scream (see also trivia note 1).
We’ve had hints about Giles’ background for a few episodes now, but here we learn the details. The metaphor of his rebellious years takes the form of drug use: Giles is drinking; he looks drunk; Buffy refers to him “lost weekending” (see trivia note 3); and we learn from Willow and Giles that possession by the demon was a “high”:
“Willow: … Temporary possession [by Eyghon] imbues the host with a euphoric feeling of power.'…
Giles:  Yes. One of us would, um... (nervously pours a drink) go into a deep sleep, and the others would, uh, summon him. It was an extraordinary high!”

So Giles experimented with drugs when he was younger, and this comes back to haunt him. But of course there’s a message for Buffy as well, and I think the name of the demon gives us a clue: Eyghon is pronounced “I gone”. If you let something take you over completely, you may never be entirely free of it again. There will be two instances where this will come into play in S2.
In comments I added some thoughts on Angel which I'll incorporate here:
It's interesting because Angel isn't a "hero" at all in S1. He's helpful, but he never puts himself in any danger except in PG (with Xander right there with him). The heroic image is partly, well, imagery. He's shown rather heroically: mysterious, brooding, dark, gorgeous, etc. He looks the part. His actual bravery doesn't begin until S2, and the buildup is gradual. As of SAR, saving Cordy from an arm was probably third on his list of actual deeds. While he did do some fighting in PG, WSWB, School Hard, and Reptile Boy, it was peripheral to the main action and nothing comparable to Xander in PG. This episode showed him willing to really put himself on the line. While Buffy wasn't sure she trusted him in Lie to Me, Angel's behavior here may have convinced her. There’s a reason for this, and it’s coming soon.
Trivia notes: (1) When Buffy’s aggressively loud music ends, Giles says “And the rest is silence.” That’s a quote from Hamlet, Act V, sc ii. They are Hamlet’s last words. (2) Joss must have been feeling very Shakespearean around this time, because Buffy thinks All’s Well That Ends Well with cute ER doctors. (3) The Lost Weekend is a 1945 movie about a writer who binge drinks. (4) “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” – what Eyghon says to Giles – is a song written by Cole Porter and made famous by Frank Sinatra. (5) The picture of “young Giles” actually superimposes a head shot of Anthony Stewart Head onto the body of Sid Vicious.

22 comments:

  1. I am enjoying your posts.

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  2. Thank you. I appreciate the support.

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  3. Apologies in advance for the length . . .

    The Dark Age is an interesting episode for me - it's not one of my favorites as a standalone episode, and I probably wouldn't put it very high on any best-of lift. But its place in both the arc of the season and in terms of establishing some key elements of Joss Whedon's evolving story-telling ethos is very high.

    MILD SPOILERS

    Narrative-wise, it's a very interesting episode for a couple of reasons. First (and I'm sure you're well aware of this Mark), it really sets the stage for the back half of Season 2. Lie to Me, may have set that stage thematically, but TDA does so in terms of narrative - if I recall, it's Angels actions in this episode that really start to warm the gang to him, saving Jenny and all. This also works on the audience as we start to see Angel as more than just a love interest/protector of Buffy and as a genuine "hero" like figure. And it's key that this perception of him comes via his saving Jenny's life. As we will learn in Passion, it is also an encounter between Angel and Jenny that shows us his true potential for villainy.

    Tied into all that is the beginning of Jenny and Giles's rocky relationship. What to now has seemed cute and flirty will remained strained for just about all of Jenny's time in Sunnydale. That strain is also key to audience reaction in Passion because its the hope that Jenny and Giles will get back together (and even Buffy's warming to the idea) that really makes Angel's actions in Passion, ahem, bite so deeply.

    And this leads to TDA's place as a marker in Whedon's own evolving approach to story telling. It has since become almost cliche to point out Whedon's unwillingness to let a happy couple stay happy. But it's even more than that. He likes to take a happy couple, tear them apart, then let them slowly grope their way back to happiness before springing some brutal twist on the couple (and the audience) that permanently ends things. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think Giles and Jenny's relationship is Whedon's first go-round with this story-telling trope, and it all really begins here, in The Dark Age.

    So while I don't really LOVE the episode on its own, I do love what it does and recognize it as a very vital piece in what's about to become an incredible arc.

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  4. "The rest is silence" is a throwback to the movie as well, of course it's usage is so nonsensical in the movie that I think it was taken completely out of whatever context Joss originally intended for it.

    Trivia 5) They should have just used a pic of him doing Dr. Frankenfurter

    http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Anthony+Stewart+Head+Dr.+Frankenfurter&view=detail&id=5BCCD59F2E4AD08A77C62CF6CE41854400394805&first=0&FORM=IDFRIR

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  5. aaron: All excellent points. I'd note that up to this point in time Angel has been played as a hero-type, but he hasn't actually done much heroic. While he did do some fighting in PG, WSWB, School Hard, and Reptile Boy, it was peripheral to the main action and nothing comparable to Xander in PG. This episode showed him willing to really put himself on the line. While Buffy wasn't sure she trusted him in Lie to Me, Angel's behavior here may have convinced her.

    Aeryl, LOL on the Dr. Frankenfurter suggestion. Maybe not quite the same message though.

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  6. I remember being shocked when I initially watched season one, as I'd already seen most of seasons 2 and 3, and knowing he'd gone on to his own show, at how scaredy cat Angel was in season one.

    So establishing him as a hero was super important, else how would we be invested in his character and care about what's about to happen?

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  7. It's interesting because Angel isn't a "hero" at all in S1. He's helpful, but he never puts himself in any danger except in PG (with Xander right there with him).

    The heroic image is partly, well, imagery. He's shown rather heroically: mysterious, brooding, dark, gorgeous, etc. He looks the part.

    His actual bravery doesn't begin until S2, and the build up is gradual. As of SAR, saving Cordy from an arm was probably third on his list of actual deeds.

    There are, obviously, good reasons for this, as you know, but they won't be shown for a while.

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    Replies
    1. **Spoilers for Angel spin-off**
      This behavior feels especially fitting when we finally get flashbacks of cursed!Angel in the decades prior to BtVS S1. He wasn't actually interested in playing the hero, especially after an ugly encounter during the 50's... which is likely what ends up with him later completely isolated from human & vampire kind and living off in the squalor Whistler finds him in. This knowledge makes Angel in S1 much more interesting to me, as we see him slowly inspired to take more agency and put himself out for people. As Angel comes more and more out of his shell and actually exercises the humanity that soul gives him the choice to access, he grows into more of a "hero" figure.

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  8. I just remember him whining in The Harvest, when Buffy asks him if he's going to fight the vampires, he says no and she shouldn't either, one of his lines is, "I'm afraid" delivered in a very straightforward manner.

    Now, at this time, I already knew he was a vampire, so I'm yelling at him for being such a wuss, but that line reveals a lot about him in hindsight(things that were in some way contradicted by the exploration of his past on the show, the submarine ep for one).

    So yea, before Buffy could love him, it had to be established that he was willing to put himself on the line and fight the good fight like Buffy. So that's what's being done here.

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  9. From a strictly narrative perspective, it probably was a good idea to keep a lid on Angel's potential heroism during S01 - the show needed to establish that it was Buffy who was, indeed, the hero of the show.

    Also (MILD SPOILERS for S02),

    I think Angel really did see his role early on more as something like an extra-watcher or guide for Buffy (as depicted in Becoming) and only slowly blossomed into a more heroic type because of his feelings for her and his growing sense of accomplishment over "doing the right thing." Or so it seems to me . . .

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  10. MAJOR SPOILERS THROUGH S2

    I've never been entirely clear on how Angel saw himself with Buffy after Whistler intervened. Part of it is that we just don't get much detail in Becoming. Certainly he jumped at the chance to "be somebody", and certainly he was attracted to Buffy, but just how he thought he'd connect the two is not so clear. It may not have been clear to him either.

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  11. SPOILERS CONTINUED:

    I think you're right that it probably wasn't all that clear to him - it's an issue that the show Angel takes up in fits and starts . . . and it's a bit difficult to see where and how the Buffyverse really starts to plant the seeds of the idea of Angel as an important hero. Did Joss already have the idea when he conceived of the character? Did it only become clear when they knew Angel's fate at the end of S02, but also that he'd be back for S03?

    So it's a bit difficult to tell which early "signs" were intentional. But it does seem to me that the way his "awakening" is depicted in Becoming lends itself to his early timidity around Buffy in S01, while his growing love for her combined with his sense that doing good feels good leads naturally to his taking a more active role in Scooby activity.

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  12. SPoilers

    I think there would have been a major outrage among the fans if Angel had stayed a whiny nincompoop before Surprise. Sure Buffy was attracted to him in Season 1, but it isn't until he starts being more active in her calling that their relationship heats up. So buffing Angel up was an excuse to have them spend more time together, and to turn Angel into a character the fans would feel comfortable with Buffy dating.

    I know the original plan in Season 2 was for Angel to stay dead, but the WB offered Joss another show if he'd bring him back, so I think in season 3, with eps like Amends, is where it starts to be established that he is a hero in his right, seperate and distinct from Buffy, and then Enemies establishes how he could do that differently than Buffy. And by Graduation Day you can tell they were totally setting up Angel as his own hero, he gets his own fight scene!

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  13. MAJOR SPOILERS FOR S2 and S3

    That seems like a plausible scenario. I often wonder how S3 would have played out if Angel had stayed dead. Joss must have had something in mind, but I don't recall anyone ever asking him that.

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  14. Apologies for the late post—been a rather overwhelming week...

    Small trivia with SPOILER:

    Early in the episode, Giles & Jenny discuss a book he had lent her—a first edition by Forster, meaning, I assume, early 20th century novelist & journalist E.M. Forster—

    The titles is not mentioned, but I've always liked to think it was the book usually deemed his masterpiece, Howard's End. The motto to that book is appropriate—in the positive and negative sense—to this episode: "only connect."

    And although I can no longer quote from memory the passage in which the family matriarch first utters it (and do not currently have all my books with me), I remember that the passage runs, from beginning to end, "Only connect.... live no more in fragments."

    This I see as particularly relevant to Giles' life—and to the structure of S2, if we take up aaron's reading of Passion as the mirror episode to this one. For Giles is seeking to "only connect" with Jenny, and I would argue that after Passions, he "live[s]... in fragments" for the rest of the series, as his dream in Restless and his spoken motives in S6 indicate.

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  15. Wikipedia comes to the rescue:

    "Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer."

    Very nice suggestion. And the quote supports it in a very interesting way.

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  16. Oh yes—the quote as a whole—"the prose and the passion" might be Giles and Jenny or Giles' two sides, the latter relevant to your allegorical interpretation—makes the association even stronger.

    Thanks to you and Wikipedia.

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  17. SPOILERS CONT

    I wonder that often myself. So much of S3 is the angst between those two and how it must inevitably end, I really what they would have filled it with. Would Buffy have found a new guy? Would she have dated several guys and not really settled down, always running the risk to her now not-so-secret ident? Would her and Faith have hit it off better, if she had been more confident in her sexuality and not so threatened by Faith's in-your-face sexuality?

    SO MANY QUESTIONS???

    Another fun thing I've seen done, is fans wondering what Dawn would have been doing right now?

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  18. @State of Siege, nice catch and cool observation, re: the Forster.

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  19. Gah. Anonymous left a comment for this episode which I can't see. Second time this has happened. In case others can't see it, I've copied it here:

    **Spoilers for Angel spin-off**
    This behavior feels especially fitting when we finally get flashbacks of cursed!Angel in the decades prior to BtVS S1. He wasn't actually interested in playing the hero, especially after an ugly encounter during the 50's... which is likely what ends up with him later completely isolated from human & vampire kind and living off in the squalor Whistler finds him in. This knowledge makes Angel in S1 much more interesting to me, as we see him slowly inspired to take more agency and put himself out for people. As Angel comes more and more out of his shell and actually exercises the humanity that soul gives him the choice to access, he grows into more of a "hero" figure.

    My response:

    Yes, that's how I see him as well.

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  20. SPOILERS/Foreshadowing for S2
    Did anyone else gasp when Demon-Jenny looked up at Giles and said "Was it good for you?"? This being BtVS, I refuse to believe that that wasn't intentional!

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  21. I'm sure it was, especially because sex is such a big theme of S2.

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