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Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Harsh Light of Day

[Updated April 30, 2013]

The Harsh Light of Day gives us a lovers’ triangle: three pairs of lovers (or “lovers” in the case of Spike and Harmony). Each is contrasted with the others, all three connected by their eventual unhappiness. Note that the three women walking on campus at the end form a triangle.


Parker is tall and dark, like Angel. While he says he hates the idea of guys who are dark and broody, he kind of is. These should have been flashing warning signals for Buffy, but the real clue was in the “philosophy” he expressed to Buffy right after the teaser: “Parker : I just wanted to say that it [his father’s death, assuming that was true] was so sad cause there was well, a lot of stuff that he didn't finish. It make me think about, you know, living for now.” Note that Parker isn’t lying here, but he’s using the phrase “living for now” in exactly the opposite way Buffy takes it. He means it in a very shallow way, a usage we’ve seen twice before: once in WTTH when Buffy told Willow to “seize the moment because tomorrow you may be dead”; and in Surprise when Willow told Buffy “carpe diem” [seize the day]. Both of those previous instances turned out very badly, and we can see from Buffy’s conversation with Willow at the end that the experience with Parker has reopened Buffy’s insecurity about her relationships.
Parker told no actual lies, at least none that we know of. He simply made statements which, in retrospect, could be interpreted 2 different ways and let Buffy draw the wrong conclusion. He appeared to be one thing when he was in fact something very different. Buffy, I think, at some level wanted to show that she could move past Angel, so she let herself believe instead of applying to Parker the same skepticism she showed with Kathy. As bojana pointed out in a comment to the post on Living Conditions, the lyrics to Cher’s song “Believe” might very well be seen as cluing us in to Buffy’s attitude here:
Do you believe in life after love
I can feel something inside me say
I really don't think you're strong enough,
Now
What am I supposed to do
Sit around and wait for you
And I can't do that
There's no turning back
I need time to move on
I need love to feel strong…

The search for one’s perfect love is like the search for the Holy Grail – it’s an unattained or unattainable goal. At the end of the episode, Buffy arranged to send the Gem of Amara to Angel. He’s her Holy Grail, still. But as Spike’s experience in the crypt showed, in a scene reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, actually identifying the Grail from competing candidates is very hard. When Buffy slept with Parker we might say that “she chose…poorly.”
So did Harmony, though not for same reason as Buffy. Unlike Parker, Spike made no secret of his contempt for Harmony and he treated her much worse than Parker treated Buffy. As a vampire, though, Harmony didn’t understand what the Gem/Grail might be, so she didn’t even know what to look for. Because she didn’t recognize the Grail, she gave it up to someone who didn’t deserve it. I think that could be a metaphor there as well as a double entendre.
The story is less clear with Anya, so we’ll say the jury is still out on her choice. State of Siege added this in comments:
“I understand your reasons for not wanting to talk about Anya, I do think that there is a way in which we can include her here without giving anything away: all three women want something difficult and complicated, and each allows herself to be deluded—by her given partner, by herself, or both—into having sex as a easy, simple way to satisfy that desire. Buffy, as you point out, wants to prove that she can move past Angel, so she takes Parker at face value, refuses to see the slime dripping from each word he says; Harmony, as Willow points out, always wanted a boyfriend—so much so that she lied about having one in high school—and so she sleeps with Spike and puts up with his cruelties in order to pretend she has one (she may not know what love is, but she certainly feels the pain of his endless jabs and rejections). And Anya, well, she wants to get over her desire for Xander, so she sleeps with him, thinking once will do it. It doesn't—and no matter what happens after, we can still say she was wrong about her first assumption and feels wronged, in turn, when it does not immediately seem that Xander shares her feelings—which is why she ends up in the Quad as part of the triangle.”
Trivia notes: (1) The lyrics to the chorus of the Dingoes song we hear as the episode opens pretty accurately describe Parker: “When I see your face/my eyes just dilate /but I can't erase/that I want to violate/every bit and everything and/every part of you.” His eyes weren’t the only thing dilating. (2) In the big battle at the end of Graduation Day 2, there’s a scene of Harmony getting bit by one of the Mayor’s vamps. We didn’t see her turned, but obviously she was. (3) Buffy’s scar from where Angel bit her in GD2 is likely a metaphorical emotional scar as well as a physical one. (4) When Harmony asked Spike if she could make Antonio Banderas a vampire, that was a reference to the movie Interview With The Vampire. He’s married to Melanie Griffith, hence Spike’s response of “do Melanie and the kids as well”. (5) Buffy woke up in bed alone after sex with Parker, just as she did after sex with Angel in Surprise. You may be sensing a pattern here. (6) Spike’s “I love syphilis more than you” gets my vote for harshest putdown in the show. If you count AtS, though, it’s probably second to “I wasn’t thinking about you when you were here”. (7) The album Oz held up for Giles was “Loaded” by The Velvet Underground. Owning a Velvet Underground album is evidence that Giles was once really hip. (8) The story of the Gem of Amara continued on the AtS episode In the Dark.

11 comments:

  1. *SPOILERS FOR ANGEL IN THE DARK*

    One of the best Spike voiceover/big speeches ever!:

    How can I thank you, you mysterious, black-clad hunk of a night thing? (low voice) No need, little lady, your tears of gratitude are enough for me. You see, I was once a badass vampire, but love and a pesky curse defanged me. Now I’m just a big, fluffy puppy with bad teeth. (Rachel steps closer to Angel, and Angel steps back warding her off with his hands) No, not the hair! Never the hair! (high voice) But there must be someway I can show my appreciation. (low voice) No, helping those in need’s my job, - and working up a load of sexual tension, and prancing away like a magnificent poof is truly thanks enough! (high voice) I understand. I have a nephew who is gay, so… (low voice) Say no more. Evil’s still afoot! And I’m almost out of that Nancy-boy hair-gel that I like so much. Quickly, to the Angel-mobile, away!”

    hee! :)

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    1. That is great. Spike was really on a roll in these two episodes.

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  2. The interactions between Spike and Angel really lead to some of the best put-downs over the course of the two series...especially the ones with lots of Britishisms in them...thanks for the reminder of that excellent voiceover, stephanie!

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  3. A belated thought—although I understand your reasons for not wanting to talk about Anya, I do think that there is a way in which we can include her here without giving anything away: all three women want something difficult and complicated, and each allows herself to be deluded—by her given partner, by her self, or both—into having sex as a easy, simple way to satisfy that desire. Buffy, as you point out, wants to prove that she can move past Angel, so she takes Parker at face value, refuses to see the slime dripping from each word he says; Harmony, as Willow points out always wanted a boyfriend—so much so that she lied about having one in high school—and so she sleeps with Spike and puts up with his cruelties in order to pretend she has one (she may not know what love is, but she certainly feels the pain of his endless jabs and rejections). And Anya, well, she wants to get over her desire for Xander, so she sleeps with him, thinking once will do it. It doesn't—and no matter what happens after, we can still say she was wrong about her first assumption and feels wronged, in turn, when it does not immediately seem that Xander shares her feelings—which is why she ends up in the Quad as part of the triangle.*

    *Which is not to be confused with a future Triangle...

    And given that this is episode 3, the fact that the theme is is delusive desires, self-knowledge (and thus identity), and an avoidance of the complex and difficult, it seems to me that we are abutting upon major season themes...

    PS I want to apologize for having been absent—I wanted to offer comments earlier, especially upon your beautiful, masterful Season 3 conclusion, but I have been both ill and hopelessly overwhelmed (how much more than whelmed?)... If I can find the time... you deserve more response...

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    1. Excellent points both on Anya and on the connection to the season arc.

      That's very nice regarding S3. I hope you're past the illness and now underwhelmed with work. :) I'd be happy to get your response even if delayed.

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  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  5. Victoria Grossack made the following comment. I'm reposting to add a SPOILER WARNING for all remaining episodes.

    Just discovered this site! What a treasure.

    All three women will later discover that they cannot find themselves in a relationship; they need to find themselves on their own. Harmony is, funnily enough, the first we see progressing towards this, as we see when she rejects Spike in Pangs. The speech she gives comes straight out of the advice columns of women's magazines but it still has some truth to it. Anya has a harder time finding herself because she is defining herself through a guy who, for the most part, treats her pretty well (until Hell's Bells). It is only in Selfless that she realizes that she does not know who she is.

    Buffy, as the heroine, shows many more steps in this journey of self-discovery, but even at the end in the famous cookie dough speech she realizes she's not finished forming either

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    1. Thank you. That's an excellent point about all three. I hadn't thought of it that way before.

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  6. I think this is a great episode. It uses the unique (in television at the time) philosophical/emotional storytelling devices that Whedon had perfected by this point in the show.

    I love it when Joss has the bad guys say things he agrees with. Parker tells Buffy that history isn't events or currents or dialectic or anything like that, it's a chronicle of the choices that human beings have made. In this case, he's putting the words into the mouth of the person who uses that idea to manipulate Buffy into making a choice (hello irony). It gives Buffy's feelings of "this is my fault" at the end resonance: no matter how much Willow says that Parker manipulated Buffy, which he did, we still remember the exact moment when she chose to sleep with him and accept the consequences - consequences she's now trying to deny. Parker has no defense - he should have been honest about his intentions - but Buffy's is problematic as well. She learned about choices and consequences last year. She should know better. (Spike also thrust Buffy into the harsh light of day by telling her the truth. He was absolutely correct in his analysis of their tryst.)

    In true Joss form, however, the ending shot gives us the opposite notion. I see these wronged women walking around at night and I can't help but feel bad for them. They were used by men who also should have known better. Even Spike knows what love does to an unperson. He was love's bitch. Xander told Anya the truth several times: these things have to just happen; you can't force a relationship; sex is about expressing something; they don't know each other well enough. But he still slept with her, and it only made things worse. And I'm sure Buffy isn't the first girl that Parker's hurt. As much as it was these women's responsibility to make good choices and accept the consequences of their not so good ones, at the end part of me feels like it just wasn't their fault, that they were used, that they were, um, swept up in the current of events as Parker put it. It's classic Joss to tell you one thing and then show you the opposite.

    And how about that double entendre? "You love that tunnel more than me!" He really does, Harm. (Such an appropriate nickname.)

    I've read many of your essays, and they're wonderful. Thanks for the outstanding site and insight.

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    1. Heh. I completely missed the double entendre in that line.

      Very good points, especially the way Parker focuses on choices. I think it was his emphasis on that which led Buffy astray, led her to believe she was exercising greater agency than she actually was given her lack of knowledge about Parker.

      Thank you.

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    2. It occurs to me that making choices without fully understanding the situation is kind of a theme for the season, as we'll see in Pangs and Doomed and other episodes. It's hard to tell if that's an intentional message here in HLOD, but it's possible.

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