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Thursday, January 5, 2012

What's My Line 1 & 2

[Updated April 29, 2013]

What’s My Line would be a fan favorite if it had nothing else but the Xander/Cordy basement scene, but it also has a satire on Microsoft; classic Spike and Dru scenes; Willow, Oz, and animal crackers; and the first reference to the group as the “Scooby Gang”, which will become the standard from now on. “What’s the flum?” “I’m thinkin’ maybe dinner and a movie.” “Eb diminished ninth.” “That’s me only shirt.”

Buffy’s feeling constrained by her destiny: “Y'know, if you don't like the way I'm doing my job, why don't you find somebody else? Oh, that's right, there can only be one. As long as I'm alive, there is no one else. Well, there you go! I don't have to be the Slayer. I could be dead. … Either way I'm bored, constricted, I never get to shop, and my hair and fingernails still continue to grow. So really, when you think about it, what's the diff?” The irony of this outburst will soon become apparent, but she’s acting immaturely, which she basically admits to Giles.
What’s interesting about her reaction to career day is that her dissatisfaction is not at her lack of normalcy today. After all, she’s doing exactly what all the rest of the students are doing. No, she’s chafing at her future. That’s where she differs from her fellow students – she’s committed to a goal and they aren’t.
Perhaps seeking compensation for her frustration at her lack of a “normal” life, i.e., for the way her commitment “limits” her, she turns more towards Angel. In Lie to Me she told Angel that she loved him but wasn’t sure she trusted him. Though Angel didn’t reciprocate her declaration of love, Buffy finds him “the one freaky thing in my freaky world that still makes sense to me.” Her own lack of “normalcy” leads her to find comfort in the idea that she won’t have to be alone in that state, that someone decidedly not normal can share it with her. Notice how this mirrors Daryl’s desire for a “mate” in Some Assembly Required, though Buffy certainly doesn’t plan to kill anyone to find her true love.
Thus, when Angel’s put in danger, first by Kendra and then by Spike, Buffy reacts with her melodramatic proclamation that “nobody messes with my boyfriend” (a word she resisted when Ford asked her in Lie to Me). She also, in a scene Joss added, accepts Angel’s vampire side by kissing him in vampface. This is their first on-screen kiss since Halloween and only their second since Angel. I like this scene because WML gives us 2 ways to interpret it: Buffy has seen past the demon to Angel’s true heart; or she is overlooking the demon, as Kendra thinks. In reaching your own view of the scene, I’ll suggest that it makes sense to consider the parallel kiss of Buffy’s metaphorical heart and her metaphorical shadow self. Also consider the possible metaphor involved in where that first X/C kiss takes place – the basement.
Then there’s Kendra. Any time a new character gets introduced, especially one who seems to play a significant role, we should be asking whether that character plays a metaphorical role as well. I think Kendra does and I’ll discuss that 3 posts from now.
Some additional thoughts:
In the end, of course, Buffy rescues Angel (with no small assist from Kendra). But Angel, the one who created Dru, is the one who brings her, involuntarily of course, to full strength. This is metaphorically essential for the events to come.
At the end of School Hard, Spike complains about “A Slayer with family and friends. That sure as hell wasn't in the brochure.” In Kendra we see what he means.
Kendra’s decision to help rescue Angel is an interesting one. She takes the same view of Angel that Xander does. Some questions this raises: Did Kendra act only because her goal of stopping Spike happened to mesh with Buffy’s goal of rescuing Angel? Whose goal is the correct one, Kendra’s or Buffy’s? Are Kendra and Xander right or wrong about Angel?
Note the parallel between Drusilla’s forecast of the future using Tarot and the school’s use of standardized tests. Also take note of the sexually charged scenes in which Dru tortures Angel and Angel nearly gets Spike to dust him. Spike’s comment that he’s “not one for the pre-show” clearly has a double meaning. The restoration spell also can be read sexually.
In the DVD commentary, Marti Noxon states that scene in which Buffy and Kendra argue about returning to the Watcher was staged for Willy’s benefit. They wanted Willy, and therefore Spike, to believe that Buffy would be coming to the church alone. As a reminder for those watching for the first time, the commentaries after S1 do contain spoilers, sometimes major ones.
Trivia notes: (1) “What’s My Line” was the name of a popular game show from the 50s and 60s. The contestants tried to guess the line of work of the guest using only “yes” or “no” questions. The title obviously applies to Buffy, but it can be read as applying to Angel as well: is he essentially human or is he, as Kendra says, a “monster”? (2) Bianca Lawson (Kendra) auditioned for the role of Buffy. (3) Don’t blame her for the Jamaican accent. They decided at the last minute that Kendra should have one so Bianca didn’t have enough chance to practice it even though they did get her a coach. (4) One reason for the popularity of S2 is the introduction of 6 very popular secondary characters: Spike, Dru, Jonathan, Oz, Ethan, and now Willy. (5) Buffy kisses Angel while he’s in vamp face, thereby answering Darla’s question to him in Angel: “Did you think she would understand? That she would look at your face... your true face... and give you a kiss?” (6) Spike’s “By George, I think he’s got it” is a line from My Fair Lady and presumably ironic given the nature of Dru. (7) Buffy called Kendra “Pink Ranger”. The Pink Ranger was one of the Power Rangers. Sarah Michelle Gellar’s stunt double at this time was also the stunt double for Amy Jo Johnson, who played the Pink Ranger. (8) Spike referred to Buffy as “Rebecca of Sunnyhell Farm”. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm was a classic children’s novel. Wikipedia summarizes the novel as one in which Rebecca “faces many trials in her young life, gaining wisdom and understanding.” (9) After Xander spread the glue on the ground, he said “Welcome my little pretties”, which is a line from the Wizard of Oz. (10) Seth Green and Alyson Hannigan adlibbed the whole animal crackers scene after the point where Oz compliments her on her smile. (11) Sarah Michelle Gellar loves ice skating. (12) No worms were harmed in the filming of these episodes.


  1. This episode is the first indication that the Watcher's have a means of determining who could be Slayers before they are called, where Kendra talks about being prepared to be a Slayer her whole life, which indicates that Buffy was either ignored or overlooked is rather apparent. Which I found interesting. And then creepy, because I was totally freaked out by Merrick in the movie(I am disturbed by Donald Sutherland, which probably means his selection as President Snow is inspired), and to think of this fleet of skeevy old men following around teenage girls *Shudder*

    Which of course is probably how we're meant to feel, but we'll come back to that.

    But what did they dow with the rest of the girls?

    Season 9 spoilers

    The next edition of Angel & Faith has a flashback to Giles' school years at the (I know) Watcher Academy(where he too was Head Boy, take that WWP!). He & his classmates are tracking a vampire through a graveyard, and a comment is made that the girl in their group has over 20 stake kills, which makes me think she was a Potential in training before crossing that age threshold and instead became a Watcher. Which probably says fascinating things about anti-feminist women to those who felt the need to disect it. And makes me look at the blonde with glasses from Checkpoint in a totally different light.

  2. Excellent point about the Watchers.

    I haven't read those comics, but that's an interesting take. I'll have to think about that.

  3. "i mock you with my monkey pants" is one of my favorite oz/willow moments. so sweet. i had no idea the whole thing was ad libbed.

    aeryl - i 100% agree about donald sutherland being an inspired choice for president snow. also love the lenny cravitz and woody harrelson castings as well. (there i go again, off topic! sorry mark!)

  4. I'm very tolerant of off-topic comments. No worries.

    All of the Oz/Willow scenes from here through Innocence are incredibly sweet.

  5. Cillian Murphy was also up for the role of Cinna, but I think Lenny Kravitz was an absolutely INSPIRED choice. Going for the somewhat effeminate man to play a stylist was too easy.

    Ditto on Harrelson, I can't wait to see him as Haymitch.

    And Oz/Willow(what was their ship abbr I wonder? Ozlow?) are absolutely adorable, almost too adorable, because TBH the ONLY couples I knew in high school who were that adorable were also the ones who had the big knockdown dragout screaming fights in the school parking lot. Seth Green was an incredible choice(I almost said "inspired" AGAIN) for Oz. I wonder if anyone knows who else auditioned(probably Danny Strong at least). Like most people know that Nathan Fillion originally went out for Angel but lost to DB. Which, seriously, Thank God, cuz I love my Captain.

  6. I'm laughing at the abbreviation point because I sat here at my desk trying to come up with something that worked and finally gave up. I've never seen one.

    Good question about who else auditioned. I don't know.

  7. nathan fillion went out for angel?! seriously? again, learning something new about something i've obsessed over for years. go figure! i'm glad he didn't get it too - can't imagine my life without captain tightpants! lol.
    oz and willow were always my favorite pairing on the show, (with buffy/spike being a close second...) (and for completely different reasons, obv's) probably because i identified with willow the most. also, the sweetness of them. (until - *spoiler for season 4!* he has to go and cheat on her with that horrible veruka - boo hiss oz!!)

  8. About Buffy's kiss, I usually generally read it as Buffy seeing past the demon. I love the callback to Darla's line from S01. Those callbacks would also excite me because they show the depth of character and tend to "open" up the world of Buffy for me as a viewer - and, on a more meta-level, always tend to exemplify how much care the writers put into this show.

    I also love it as a Buffy moment (at least when read as her seeing past Angel's demon) - for all the talk about metaphor and other characters representing aspects of Buffy's character, and so on, it's nice to recall that Buffy is also just a plain old character - a young girl trying to grow up, trying to make her own decisions, trying to figure out right and wrong. All that stuff. Kissing Angel's vamp face is one of the first really grown-up choices she makes on her own. In my book . . .

  9. I absolutely saw it that way on first viewing, even on 10th. I pretty much always see the episodes through Buffy's eyes. I think it's interesting, though, to try to see it as Kendra (quite naturally) did.

  10. I guess Kendra's view of the situation is more rational - and probably, to be honest, more "professional." I think my problem with it (and it's only minor, really) is that Kendra's view, as you point out, is a little too close to Xander's, and I've never been the biggest fan of Xander - especially when it comes to Buffy and Angel's relationship.

  11. Heh. That's me in a nutshell, as you'll see.

  12. Well, Kendra and Xander may view Angel in similiar ways, but WHERE that comes from is a totally different place(unless of course Kendra is totally digging Buffy, which is possible).

    So while Xander's objections to Angel are rational, in the sense that Angel's a vampire and potentially dangerous, it's still suspect b/c that objection comes from his jealousy.

    Comic spoilers

    I have to tell you Mark, your method of viewing the other characters actions through the lens of how they relate to Buffy continues to blow my mind, I am about to begin the rereading of S8 with that in mind, to see what the other characters are telling me about Buffy, like that Buffy's heart connects with the person who was MADE from Buffy, I'm thinking that's an indication that Buffy won't ever really find romantic happiness, because she will always be focused on herself. Not that I'm as good at making those connections as you, but it'll definitely give me some food for thought when I reread.

  13. I absolutely agree on Xander. Jealousy clouds his judgment and that's not the case with Kendra at all.

    I've only read the comics once, and haven't given them enough (much?) thought, so I'll be interested in how you see it on a re-read.

  14. Trivia #10.

    I have no trouble seeing that, Seth Green is hilarious, short and smart, which makes him incredibly sexy. Robot Chicken is one of my favorite shows. Plus he does the thing with media literacy and the Girl Scouts to teach girls how to spot harmful messages in pop culture, which makes hum super adorbz. Throw in that other funny ginger(I first saw Alyson Hannigan in American Pie before ever watching Buffy, so my view of Willow is, shall we say, tainted), and they are quite the dynamic duo, I would love to see them work together in a comedy again. Interestingly enough, SMG does a ton of voice work on Robot Chicken, and gets a special call-out in all the credits(so does Mila Kunis, Green's Family Guy costar) but not Hannigan, which surprises me, as they have such GOOD chemistry onscreen.

    I will definitely post my thoughts on the reread.

  15. And of course, Aly's famous line from American Pie -- "One time, in band camp..." -- was actually adlibbed by her and then included in the script.

  16. My partner says that line is so me, as in my tendency to tell stories that start , "And this one time..."

    It got really bad for about a year after that movie came out, that every other sentence was interrupted so he could spout, "And this one time, at band camp..." The fact that I share many of the deviencies(though not ALL) of that character didn't help the comparison though.

    And of course, this is someone who can't sit thorugh one episode of Firefly without complaining that the guns don't make any sense, and whines anytime an episode of Buffy is aired in his vicinity. Thank god our daughter inherited my tatses, lol.

  17. Back OT!!

    One of the other delightful moments in this episode, that's used to illustrate how Buffy is different from previous Slayers, is her incredulous question, "There's a Slayer handbook?" After Kendra starts quoting it.

    I always laugh at that part, b/c that's the book Giles tried to give her in WTTH.

  18. You mean the one with "Vampyres" on the cover when she walks into the library for the very first time? How do we know that was the handbook?

  19. It's come up again in the comics(SPOILER MAJOR DEATH SPOILER!!! Giles left it to Buffy in his will, and it's been hinted that it's importance will come up again this season), but even before then I always assumed that was it.

    Of course it makes total sense that Buffy, the unconventional slayer, would totally ignore the book of convenstions.

  20. I actually never cared for these two episodes very much until I rewatched them a couple of days ago. The problem I always had with them was that the Order of Taraka (or however that's spelled) seemed like a pretty pointless and random macguffin. There was the hype about their powers, but they were gone by Ted and that was perfectly predictable. But this most recent viewing, I think I sussed out their metaphorical role. How does this sound?

    Throughout both parts, there's a lot of emphasis on the fact that Buffy is not only committed to being the Slayer until she dies, but that this calling will prevent her from doing other things that she would like to do. So far this season, her two main desires have been to have a normal life, which right not she seems to think consists in being like Cordelia, and shopping and doing her nails, and to have someone to love, ie Angel. Now, here's Giles description of the Order of Taraka:

    Giles: They're a breed apart, Buffy. U-unlike vampires they have no earthly desires, but to collect their bounty. They find a target, and, uh... they eliminate it. You can kill as many of them as you like, it won't make any difference. Where there's one, there will be another, and another. They won't stop coming until the job is done.

    Compare this to Kendra. Kendra has no desire for clothes, for friends, for love, for anything except killing vampires. She's extremely knowledgeable, but not because she loves to learn: "I study because it is required." She seems to Buffy at first to be just like the Order of Taraka, without any desires but to collect her bounty. (There's also the "Where there's one there will be another parallel to the Slayer line, "One dies and the next one's called") So I think the Order of Taraka is a kind of perverted mirror of Kendra. SPOILERS
    You say in the Surprise/Innocence reviews that Kendra is Buffy's virginal conscience. I think the Order of Taraka represents Buffy's fears of a life where listening to Kendra, being the Slayer all the time, means losing her humanity, which she has bound up with her childhood fantasies. Instead, by encountering Kendra, she is able to reach or maybe even only imagine a kind of middle ground. It's okay for her to want things, as long as she doesn't abandon her calling; and it's okay for her to accept her destiny, as long as she doesn't become a heartless killing machine. Unfortunately, the Order of Taraka, or her fears, distract her from her calling long enough, or in other words, led her want adult things without having to be an adult for long enough (quitting her Slayer job and going to Disneyworld), for her sexuality to rise out of control. That made much more sense of the purpose of the Order in the plot, and made me able to better appreciate these episodes' considerable merits and great moments.

    1. I like this so much I'm adding it to the book.