Follow by Email

Monday, August 6, 2012

Shadow

[Updated May 1, 2013]

If you can overlook the poor quality of the snake demon, Shadow is another good episode. Joyce’s illness is the emotional core of the episode for Buffy. I may be reaching, but I see Joyce’s “shadow” as a metaphor for the shadow of uncertainty cast on Buffy’s journey. If I’m right about that, the season’s focus on split personalities makes it natural that Joyce’s illness is in the brain.
Interestingly, what’s hidden in the “shadow” is Dawn. We get this from Glory’s spell (my emphasis):
GLORY: (To the snake demon) The power is yours to see what is unseen. To find what is shrouded in shadow. Already, you know what I seek. I have given you form, now find for me the key.

Shadow opens the morning after Fool For Love and it turns out Spike isn’t the only fool for love. Riley’s inability to keep up with Buffy is really getting to him. Spike successfully preys on the exact point of Riley’s insecurity, and we see that Riley has no real response even if Spike’s claims about Buffy are dubious: “Buffy's got a type, and you're not it. She likes us dangerous, rough, occasionally bumpy in the forehead region. (patronizingly) Not that she doesn't like you ... but sorry Charlie, you're just not dark enough.” Of course, had Riley not spent his morning making the tomb go boom, he might have actually been there for Buffy.
Riley also criticized Buffy for not taking him along when she went after Glory, but that’s exactly what he did in FFL, as Xander tells him directly. “Riley gets darker and darker throughout this season, and I think [going after the vampires all by himself in FFL] was kind of a turn for him.” (Doug Petrie)
Going back to Sandy is strong evidence that Riley was, as he admitted to Xander, “just a little crazed”. It certainly was crazy, for more than one reason. While Buffy was waiting all by herself in the hospital and while Dawn could have used some protection in the Magic Shop, Riley was indulging his insecurities with a vampire. Letting Sandy bite him was stupid. Buffy would see it as a betrayal, just as Riley did (with less justification) when she “let” Dracula bite her. I mean, imagine how Edward would react if Bella went out and let herself get bit by someone else, or even just made out with him in a car. J
If getting bit was stupid, staking Sandy, vampire though she was, for doing what he wanted is a new low for Riley. I’ll revisit this point when we get to Into the Woods.
There’s an irony in all this, one that Dawn’s comment to Riley brings front and center. Buffy was emotionally invested in Angel, though she had sex with him just once and spent most of S3 not even kissing him. We see Buffy much more physically demonstrative with Riley, yet he’s convinced she’s not feeling the emotional connection. “She doesn't get all worked up like that over you.” And that’s the other half of Riley’s problem. It’s the same tension we’ve seen since the dueling attitudes toward love we were given by Mr. Platt in Beauty and the Beasts and Spike’s famous “Love isn’t brains” speech in Lover’s Walk.
Riley desperately feels left out by Buffy, but can’t recognize that he’s demanding to intrude on both her Slayer duties and her personal trauma. Buffy needs to be strong for Joyce and Dawn. It’s very hard to take on that role while being “weak” so that Riley can be the one to comfort her, which is what he seems to want. Besides, Buffy has always been prone to hold her emotions close and not confide in others. Riley’s demanding something from her that’s contrary to her basic nature.
Riley’s holding a double-edged sword: he’s upset because she won’t give him the passionate attention he craves, but he’s so focused on his own needs that he isn’t giving her the support she needs. From the viewpoint of an unbiased observer, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that he’s being selfish under the circumstances. As Xander tells him, Buffy can’t fight Joyce’s tumor, so needs to confront something she can fight (note that she actually can’t fight Glory – there’s a metaphor there). Riley is actually ducking the real confrontation because he’s unwilling to face up to his own fears.
Trivia notes: (1) Since Dawn asked, a CAT scan is, as Buffy said, similar to an x-ray. The letters stand for “computed axial tomography”. (2) The two recent de-invitation spells Spike mentioned were done in BvD (Dracula) and Real Me (Harmony). Spike actually got his invite in Becoming 2 and that has never been revoked even though he was far from harmless for much of the time. (3) Spike’s “sorry Charlie” refers to the commercials for StarKist Tuna. (4) Anya’s strong reaction to Xander’s wish for a cult of bunny worshipers relates to her fear of bunnies which we saw in Fear, Itself. (5) This is the episode where we learn Glory’s name. (6) When the cobra turns into the monster, Dreg shouts “He is arisen.” That phrase is a take-off from Matthew 28:6, which refers to Jesus. (7) Giles didn’t have the Aleister Crowley album the customer wanted. Crowley was a famous occultist and mystic. AFAIK, he never made an album; it’s a joke. (8) Buffy strangling the snake demon reminds me of Princess Leia with Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi.

22 comments:

  1. Is this the first episode in which Buffy wears a long leather coat? I noticed it on re-watch recently (she pretty much wears it all episode), but wasn't sure if she'd worn it before. In any case, it's an interesting choice of wardrobe coming right after FFL.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To quote Mark Twain, I'm glad to be able to answer this one quickly: I don't know.

      I've never noticed this before. Was her coat in Becoming a leather coat? I'd have to go back to see. She does wear leather more in the future.

      Delete
    2. It's like Buffy, Spike, and Faith are converging into an Uber-Wardrobe.

      Mandatory Firefly content: Mal's home planet (RIP) was named Shadow.

      Delete
    3. I don't remember her wearing one before, but that certainly doesn't mean she didn't. What I like about its appearance here, though, is how it relates to the previous episode: Spike telling Buffy about her darkness, via his own stories of killing Slayers. During one of those episodes he picks up his leather coat, which represents his own vision of himself as "bad" or dark, but to Buffy represents his true evil. And in the next episode (one in which Buffy has been recently comforted by Spike, but chooses not to call Riley for comfort), Buffy wears a similar black leather coat.

      It seems like it might fit, somehow, into your discussion on split personalities and Buffy's uncertainty about who she is.

      p.s. not sure if the coat in Becoming was leather, but it wasn't black. I still remember that slow-motion shot of her running through the school corridor in the long blue coat (I think it shows up in the credits of S03).

      Delete
    4. aaron—Nice reading

      I, too, am not sure if this is the first long leather coat Buffy wears, but I do know that the coat in Becoming is bright blue and almost taffeta-like in fabric—it has a non-leather sort of sheen at certain moments, much more girly...

      (That she switched to a dark coat first, then a dark top, always signified to me a shift toward a more series turn of mind—toward her recognition that no, Willow was not going to be able to do the spell, that yes, she really was going to have to kill Angel.)

      Delete
    5. Leather pants and coats are definitely signals on the show. I hadn't noticed it in this case, though. Good call.

      Delete
  2. If Spike is not the only Fool for Love, Joyce is not the only one with a Shadow: Riley joins her, as well, here—although his Shadow, which splits him into the lovelorn and reckless, is largely of his own making…

    My reading of Riley’s actions dovetails closely with yours, as my comments on Family make clear, so I won’t go into detail, but a few small notes and a memory:

    Riley does feel desperately left out, but that is because he leaves himself out: as you show, he is absent from Buffy much of the episode, and even when he is there, he fails to do what she needs most—what Spike, of all people, had given her the night before—a person who would simply listen.

    (Listening, however, does not seem to appeal to Riley—it must make him “kitteny” in his eyes—for all that it actually requires far more strength and empathy than anything he does do this episode...)

    (Had he really listened to Xander and talked to him, Riley would doubtless also have done more for Buffy than he did by running to Sandy… What Buffy needs is for Riley to not go after "something to hit.")

    When this first aired, I was watching with my then-boyfriend, and two events made him twinge in involuntary guy-empathy with Riley (for whom he otherwise had little sympathy): the first was in the caves in OomM, when Buffy tells Riley she needs him—not that she loves him; the second was here, when Dawn, trying to help, tells him that Buffy “doesn’t get all worked up like that over you.” Ouch.


    SPOILERY

    Joyce’s Shadow is, perversely, what allows her to see Dawn: when she initially fainted and asked “Who are you?”—and then next episode, first in her confused raving, later, before her surgery, in her lucid acceptance of the responsibility Dawn presents, an acceptance in which she doubles her actual daughter.

    (Riley's shadow, perhaps because it is so self-imposed, offers him only blindness instead...)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed on Riley. He feels himself in the shadows and proceeds to put himself in deeper. That casts a shadow on his relationship with Buffy. I like your point that being in the shadow makes it too dark for him to see.

      For some reason I had more sympathy for Riley when I first watched. I don't now.

      Delete
    2. I too had more sympathy for Riley first time around. The thing with Riley is, he's set up as Mr Perfect - especially compared with other Buffy boyfriends. But the problem with the Mr Perfects of the world is they don't like being "second best" or even being perceived as second best.

      So I totally agree with SoS97 that Riley's problems are in large part of his own making. Buffy is just about always completely straight and up front with him, but really - really, I think - what she has to offer isn't what he wants. He wants it to be what he wants, because he sees Buffy as being incredible in so many ways. But what he really wants is somebody as incredible as Buffy but who needs him to be Mr Perfect. It's the whole "I can't stand that my wife makes more money than me" syndrome, and in some ways its more insidiously misogynist than the behavior of some of Buffy's other partners.

      Delete
    3. See it's your second example that turns off my sympathy for Riley, despite having been there myself.

      Before I got with my current partner, I was with this jealous obsessive hyper controlling guy. With new guy, because he didn't act that way, I would translate that into, "he doesn't care" instead of viewing it as a healthy way to treat your partner.

      To me, Riley is like me, he sees that Buffy doesn't get as distraught about him, and instead of viewing that as a bonus, that he and Buffy have a healthy adult relationship, he instead sees that as something that makes their relationship lesser.

      Which is just messed up.

      Delete
    4. aaron—yes to the insidious misogyny.

      Delete
    5. Aeryl, is your stance then that without Riley's mistakes here, their relationship is generally a healthy adult relationship?

      I'm not sure I'm so convinced. While Riley is certainly handling things poorly, there might be a real problem between them that isn't entirely Riley self-inflicting. Buffy hasn't told him she loves him, and they've been dating for months since his declaration. While an argument can be made that she does love Riley, it's reasonable that he doubts her feelings.

      Delete
  3. Enjoyed your analysis, as usual. It's fitting that in an episode called "Shadow," the season begins to get dark.

    By the way, recordings of Aleister Crowley do exist, but I don't know if any were issued on an album.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, the album requested was "Aleister Crowley Sings", and I'm sure that's a joke.

      Delete
    2. No doubt. That line does make me giggle.

      Delete
  4. Riley’s holding a double-edged sword: he’s upset because she won’t give him the passionate attention he craves, but he’s so focused on his own needs that he isn’t giving her the support she needs. From the viewpoint of an unbiased observer, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that he’s being selfish under the circumstances. As Xander tells him, Buffy can’t fight Joyce’s tumor, so needs to confront something she can fight (note that she actually can’t fight Glory – there’s a metaphor there). Riley is actually ducking the real confrontation because he’s unwilling to face up to his own fears.

    That to me sums up the situation right there. I'm not saying there was no fault in Buffy's part - but neither one was able to be there for each other the way the other person NEEDED them to be. But Riley's demands on Buffy seem especially grating, as he's seeking something that is entirely contrary to her nature. The more mature approach would be to admit that one has particular needs that aren't being met and deal with that openly and honestly, rather than blaming the other person.

    And again, Buffy doesn't use the word "love" easily. Looked what happened the first time she did it. And she's really not much of a talker, she's a doer. So I'm willing to cut her more slack here. (the whole "mom is sick and possibly dying and I have to take care of a little sister" tips the scales for me emotionally in Buffy's favor.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. SPOILERS THROUGH S7

      Aside from Angel, I believe that Buffy NEVER tells anyone else that she loves him (romantically; she certainly loves Giles and Xander as family).

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      Delete
    3. Sorry, I had to re-post JEL's comment because it contained a spoiler. Here it is, along with my response:

      MAJOR SPOILER FOR S7:

      You forgot Spike at the very end of Chosen. Or you don't think of that as romantically?

      JEL

      You're absolutely right, of course. Can't believe I forgot that.

      Delete
  5. Apologies; thought I was covered by your original post since I was replying to that.

    JEL

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No need to apologize. You made a reasonable assumption and I think most readers can't be spoiled anyway. This was such a big spoiler, though, that I thought a separate label was appropriate just in case.

      Delete