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Monday, April 30, 2012

Living Conditions

[Updated April 30, 2013]

There’s an obvious life lesson in Living Conditions: don’t have the bad judgment to be the college roommate of someone who grows up to be a Hollywood writer.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Freshman

[Updated April 30, 2013]

The production of a play, movie, or TV show isn’t the work of a solo artist like a novel might be. It’s a group effort which involves, at least, the writers (not all of them Joss); the actors; the directors (even on his own episodes, Joss didn’t always direct); the Standards & Practices department (which controls what you can and can’t say and do on the air); make-up artists; costume designers; and musicians. The actions of all of these will affect what we eventually see on the screen.
This will be all the more true when events in the real world make it impossible to tell the story which the writers originally intended. We saw a little bit of that at the end of S3, where the broadcasts of Earshot and Graduation Day were delayed because of events at Columbine. While nothing that dramatic affected S4, the things which did happen caused probably an even greater impact on what eventually appeared on the screen. I’ll talk about those outside factors when we get to the relevant episodes, but I can’t do it until then because of spoilers.
You need to bear in mind that this is true when I discuss the opening episodes of S4. It may be that those episodes don’t give us the usual clues about the seasonal themes, or that those clues are less obvious because the eventual story got modified from what the writers expected at the time they wrote them. Worse yet, actually identifying the seasonal themes is itself pretty difficult. At the time S4 first aired, many fans were disappointed because the season seemed a little disjointed. That’s a fair criticism in a way, but in retrospect it’s my impression that they’ve come to like the season because so many of the episodes are individually good.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Graduation Day 1 & 2

[Updated April 30, 2013]

“Gentlemen,” he said,
“I don't need your organization,
I've shined your shoes
I've moved your mountains and marked your cards
But Eden is burning
Either get ready for elimination
Or else your hearts must have the courage
For the changing of the guards.”

Graduation Day ties together what I see as the three principal themes of S3. The most important theme involves Buffy’s acceptance of the absurdity of the world. For Joss, that’s a key insight in becoming a true adult. I’ll summarize that below and explain how the events of GD2 fit in with that theme and with Camus’s concept of rebellion as an important response to absurdity. The second theme, related to the first, involves the corruption of adult institutions represented by the Mayor and the Watcher’s Council. The teenage years are a natural time for rebellion and corrupt adult institutions are proper targets to rebel against. Lastly, we have the Faith arc, which involves both Buffy’s reconciliation with her shadow self and the existentialist quest for authenticity.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Prom

[Updated April 30, 2013]

Looking back on it, I find it hard to believe that I didn’t much care for The Prom when it first aired. Now I love it and can re-watch it whenever I need a feel-good moment. I’m not even sure any more why I wasn’t thrilled with it. Now I see it as Buffy’s just reward.

Monday, April 16, 2012


[Updated April 30, 2013]

With the emphasis I’ve given to the importance of choice in existentialist thought, you should expect that I think an episode with the title Choices will have something significant to say. You’d be right. Faith’s made her choices, Buffy makes choices, Willow makes choices, and all those choices have (or will have) consequences for which they need to take responsibility.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


[Updated April 30, 2013]

Those who watch Buffy on DVD get to experience something the TV viewers didn’t: Earshot in the correct order. The originally scheduled air date was the week after the shootings at Columbine High (April 20, 1999), and the network decided that the Earshot storyline was too similar. It eventually aired on September 21, 1999, just before the beginning of S4.

Monday, April 9, 2012


[Updated April 30, 2013]

The title of Enemies is ironic. Faith became Buffy’s enemy the moment the Mayor opened his door in Consequences. Buffy just didn’t know she had an enemy until now.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


[Updated April 30, 2013]

Doppelgänger is a German word meaning “a paranormal double of a living person, typically representing evil or misfortune.” Wikipedia tells us that “Doppelgängers, as dark doubles of individual identities, appear in a variety of fictional works …. These doppelgängers are typically, but not always, evil in some way. The double will often impersonate the victim and go about ruining them, for instance through committing crimes or insulting the victim's friends. Sometimes, the double even tries to kill the original.”
Given this meaning, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Doppelgangland appears at this point in the season, right after two episodes showing Faith as the dark side of Buffy’s Slayer half. It’s the same basic theme. And if it’s the same basic theme, that means I think there’s a message about Buffy in the episode even if it seems to focus on Willow.

Monday, April 2, 2012


[Updated April 30, 2013]

Consequences reads like waking up with a hangover after a night of binge drinking. Maybe binge drinking that led to a hit and run accident.