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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Same Time, Same Place

[Updated May 3, 2013]

When I first saw Same Time, Same Place, I thought the Gnarl demon was too heavy-handed. In thinking about it since, I realized it works both metaphorically and in the context of the plot. As metaphor, Gnarl represents Buffy’s fears about Willow.
As plot, I think we should see Gnarl as born of Willow’s guilt about how her friends perceive her:
GNARL (O.S.)
Your friends left you here. (singing) No one comes to save you. (talking) They wanted me to have you.
Did they leave you as a gifty for me? Are you a tasty little gifty? … Or did they just throw you away?

Gnarl then punishes Willow as her sense of guilt leads her to feel that she should be punished. The entire situation, then, was something she herself created, just as she created their mutual inability to see each other.


Gnarl used the word “gifty” when referring to Willow, three times in fact. From Robert Burns’ poem To A Louse: "O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us/to see oursels as others see us!" And what does Willow say in her conversation with Buffy at the end? “Heck, I did a little [think it might have been her]”. Her own witchy power, combined with her sense of guilt, allowed her to see herself as others saw her.
The demon makes a lot of sense from this perspective. And it’s creepy as Hell, for my money the second creepiest on the show after the Gentlemen in Hush.
As for the inability to see each other, it’s very much in character for Willow to try to hide, which is what her spell accomplished. That was one of the major themes in her dream in Restless:
TARA: They will find out, you know. About you.
***
BUFFY: (to Willow) Your costume is perfect. (Whispers) Nobody's gonna know the truth. You know, about you.
WILLOW: (bemused) Costume?
BUFFY: (pouting) You're already in character! Oh, I shoulda done that!
***
TARA: (offscreen) Everyone's starting to wonder about you. The real you. If they find out, they'll punish you, I ... I can't help you with that.
***
BUFFY: (straightens up) Play is long over. (Stares at Willow) Why are you still in costume?
WILLOW: Okay, still having to explain wherein this is just my outfit.
(Gesturing to her clothes)
BUFFY: Willow, everybody already knows. Take it off.
WILLOW: No. No. (Looks around nervously) I need it.
(Buffy rolls her eyes.)
BUFFY: Oh, for god's sake, just take it off.
(Spins Willow around and rips her clothes off.)
BUFFY: That's better. It's much more realistic.

Three episodes into S7 and as always the themes for the season have been established and major developments prefigured. STSP is very important for that purpose, as it sets the stage for one major plot development later in S7 and for Buffy’s actions in the finale. It’s a very good episode IMO, but I’ll have to discuss some of the features later in the season just as I did with Real Me in S5.
Obviously, too, unfinished business from S6 needs to be addressed, and those past issues have now been raised for Spike, Anya and Willow. Raised, but hardly finished. We did see a step forward for Willow, but Spike is back in the DTs. Anya seems to be making tentative moves back to humanity when she admits to Willow that the “vengeance isn’t as fulfilling”. Buffy’s quietly helping Anya by turning to her for help just as if she were human.
The ending scene is lovely, and Buffy has developed formidable reservoirs of forgiveness since IOHEFY, reflected by the fact that her metaphorical heart has already forgiven Willow. If you doubt this, compare Faith and Willow. Faith is still in jail, having turned herself in. Putting aside the practical question of whether someone as powerful as Willow could be punished by others, Willow got to spend 3 months in England having Giles go all Dumbledore on her.
We could say that the purpose of punishment is limited to making sure that the perpetrator no longer poses a danger to society. Even if that were true – and it’s doubtful this would garner universal agreement – Willow’s case isn’t certain: “DAWN: She didn't finish? She didn't finish being not evil?” No, punishment is imposed to reinforce the moral lesson. We don’t lecture children and expect them to understand the Kantian rules. We ground them, for example, because that drives home the explanation which accompanies it. The question for an adult is whether they’ve internalized the punishment. That Willow has done so seems to be the point of this episode.
Another difference is that Willow has done quite a lot of good in her time with Buffy. Faith doesn’t have that “credit”. Still, this comes perilously close to adopting Faith’s argument in Consequences that she shouldn’t be responsible for Allan Finch’s death:
Faith:  (steps closer) Buffy, I'm not gonna *see* anything. I missed the mark last night and I'm sorry about the guy. I really am! But it happens! Anyway, how many people do you think we've saved by now, thousands? And didn't you stop the world from ending? Because in my book, that puts you and me in the plus column.
Buffy:  We help people! It doesn't mean we can do whatever we want.”

Perhaps a better argument is that Willow is needed in order to meet the challenges of S7. That’s what Giles told her in Beneath You: “You will be needed.” She is, after all, Buffy’s metaphorical spirit. Keeping her locked in a dungeon would mean preventing Buffy from accessing all her power. It might even put Willow back on the wrong side. By taking Willow in, Buffy can help Willow forge her own recovery instead of blocking it. If this is true, you might then ask what the proper treatment of Faith might entail.
Whether Buffy is the proper one to forgive Willow is an interesting question. If you apply the “Hero’s Journey” rubric to Buffy – and there are good arguments for doing so – then she’s reached the stage of a Christ figure. Her forgiveness of Willow is both appropriate and a necessary step on Willow’s own path to justification.
Trivia note: (1) Xander’s description of Spike as “chock full of sanity” plays on the name of the coffee company “Chock Full O’ Nuts”. (2) Anya and Willow reconnect in a scene reminiscent of when they first met in Doppelgangland. That reference is hardly accidental, because that’s the source of VampWillow’s “bored now” which Willow repeated just before she flayed Warren. (3) The “find the demon” spell was the first spell Tara and Willow tried (in Goodbye Iowa; it failed because Tara sabotaged it), and Willow’s spells with Tara did eventually get very sexy. (4) Anya’s statement that “teleporting isn’t a right, it’s a privilege” plays off the expression usually used in the US to refer to driving. (5) Dawn’s “it’s smellementary” plays off the Sherlock Holmes expression “it’s elementary”. (6) The facts that Willow didn’t realize her own spell until the end, and that it had unintended consequences, should remind you of her “my will be done” spell in Something Blue. (7) Many viewers thought that Spike’s behavior in STSP, and Buffy’s behavior towards him, were odd in light of the ending of Beneath You. What apparently happened was that the ending scene of BY was re-shot after STSP was filmed. The changed ending, in turn, made Spike’s behavior here and Buffy’s reaction to him seem discordant.

7 comments:

  1. Upon rewatching this episode I ended up skipping the parts where Gnarl actually ate Willow's skin because it grossed me out too much the first time around. The Gentlemen may have been creepy, but this demon is creepy AND cringe-worthy.

    The ending scene of Beneath You, though very well written and well acted by both JM and SMG (as always), feels a bit too long and over-wrought. It's great but it doesn't affect me as emotionally as the ending scene in this episode - their understandable hesitancy around each other, Willow's explanation about her slowly improving relationship with magic, Buffy's confession. And that last image of them holding hands, meditating together, sharing strength - so simple, touching, beautiful. I love it. What a great coalescing of Buffy's human side and Slayer side here, too. Willow understands the Slayer: "Xander has the luxury of not saying it. But you're the Slayer. You have to say stuff like that. It's okay." (Which actually reminds me of Giles' burden as Watcher in The Gift: "But I've sworn to protect this sorry world, and sometimes that means saying and doing ... what other people can't. What they shouldn't have to.") But then Buffy gets to use her Slayer strength to help her friend heal, and that, to me, is pretty darn poignant on a literal and metaphoric level given how much forgiveness and healing Willow needs.

    I doubt it's any coincidence that this interaction occurs on Willow's bed. Some of the best scenes between Buffy and Willow happen in her bedroom/on her bed: S1 Prophecy Girl ("And when I walked in there, it... it wasn't our world anymore. They made it theirs. And they had fun."), S3 Consequences (Willow vents about feeling left out, Buffy breaks down and tells her all about the murder), S3 The Prom ("I can't breathe, Will. I feel like I can't breathe."), and S4 New Moon Rising ("It's complicated... because of Tara.") Thinking about this just makes that scene in Smashed even more upsetting, that moment where Buffy nearly confesses to kissing Spike when Amy/Rat/Amy interrupts.

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    1. **ANGEL S4 & BUFFY S7 SPOILERS**
      When comparing Willow and Faith I feel like there are a few key differences. Willow accepted responsibility for her actions immediately and even at first thought she deserved death as punishment, whereas Faith denied the murder, tried to frame Buffy, and then basically became an evil psychopath for awhile before Angel took her in. Sure, she turned herself in eventually, but she caused A LOT of damage after her first transgression.

      Another major difference is a recurring discussion in the show: human laws vs. supernatural laws/rules. This goes back to what you said in your Villains post: “'Being a Slayer doesn't give me a license to kill. Warren's human. … [T]he human world has its own rules for dealing with people like him.' By going after Warren, Willow is violating not just the legal rules which apply to all of us in the real world – we don’t allow vengeance by private parties – but the code Buffy lives by in her world." And again we'll see this come up in Selfless in another form: " Willow was different. She's a human. Anya's a demon... It is always different! It's always complicated. And at some point, someone has to draw the line, and that is always going to be me....There's no mystical guidebook. No all-knowing council. Human rules don't apply. There's only me. I am the law."
      In the same way, Faith was supposed to be subjected to the rules of the Watcher's Council at first, but she eventually crossed that line and went into human law territory. This isn't to excuse Willow by any means, but in Buffy's world, in the supernatural world, Willow's rehabilitation and lessons made much more sense than going to jail.

      Also, and I think this is what you were suggesting when you said "you might then ask what the proper treatment of Faith might entail," Wesley (who got TORTURED by Faith) helps her break out of jail when they need her to capture Angelus. She doesn't even go back to jail, she goes straight to Sunnydale afterwards. There IS consistency here - when someone is truly needed the rules can change, or are at least bent to a degree. The distinctions (and similarities) between Faith and Willow here are even more meaningful considering Willow's actually in the crossover with Faith in Orpehus. Another reason to love this show: at first glance it may seem like Willow's redemption is too easy considering she nearly destroyed the world, like maybe the writers are making it easier because we sympathize with her more and just want her back with the gang, but the writers are actually being pretty consistent with how they've handled the often ambiguous issues of atonement, crime&punishment, laws, etc.

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    2. I also love the ending scene in STSP. It lacks the dramatic angst of BY, but it's peaceful and beautiful. It's also important for the finale.

      Good point about the bed and previous episodes. I hadn't noticed that. Thanks.

      SPOILERS

      I generally agree with what you say about Faith and Willow, but I'd add a couple of points.

      Yes, Faith did kill humans, but so did Willow. There's at least an argument that jail would have been the right destination for Willow. The counter-argument is that there's no, as we say in the legal biz, corpus delicti: no body. And a jury is hardly likely to believe that Willow flayed Warren with the power of her mind and then incinerated him the same way (see my joking comments on TTG). So while the crime is similar, Faith's punishment makes more sense.

      In both cases, I think that we can see Joss's view of the purpose of punishment come through. It's not revenge or anything like that, it's the chance for the perpetrator to reflect on the wrong and determine to make amends. Willow did that without the need for jail. Faith needed the jail time, but she'll break out when she realizes she can control herself on her own.

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  2. Just curious, but are you aware of the Freudian or Kantian interpretation(s) of peeling skin in dreams? Or perhaps other theories grounded in other schools of thought? I have little/no knowledge of psychology (biology and physics are my BG), so this is a genuine question. Gnarl inspires a primal response in me that suggests his role may be more significant than simply re-presenting Willow to the SG.

    [S7 SPOILERS] Catching up on yr S7 entries after the holidays... will be interested to see how you handle Buffy's increasing authoritarianism versus her existential struggles to determine her self, especially as "Chosen" renders her unique abilities less significant and force her to embrace her identity as defined by the SG to "win" (at Life, against patriarchy, against evil, etc.). It is this season's clumsy handling of this very personal and character-driven struggle that makes it so frustrating for me, especially when its highs are among my favorites in the whole series.

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    1. No, I'm not aware of that.

      However, a quick search brings me to the Dream Interpretation Dictionary (the internet is an amazing place), which gives the following: "Peeling skin; a time of unhappiness ahead, but rewards will come soon after."

      I'm not sure what to make of that in terms of STSP.

      In response to your spoiler question, yes I will be addressing that. Started today with the post on Bring on the Night.

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  3. Hi, I really like your metaphorical interpretation of this ep and the way the Gnarl (excuse me, just Gnarl) represents a manifestation of Willow's sense of guilt and need for/desire/fear of punishment.

    MILD S7 SPOILERS FOLLOW:

    However, I'm not so sure I'd read Gnarl as a literal manifestation of Willow's feelings. First of all, that leads to some troubling implications in the death of the graffiti artist.

    On a different note, however, what I'm finding interesting as I dive into ep 7 for the first time in a while is the way misdirection is working as an element so far. I'll have to see if this continues to play out and how, or if it's just an early season coincidence. But in Ep 1 we have Warren appear (and then the succession of BBs) which is a short misdirection, but leads to the heavily confusing appearance of Buffy. We also have a mini-arc misdirection starting in this ep in the wraiths who haunt the school whom Spike later will blame for his madness.

    In Ep2 Buffy gets the ominous and significant line that gives the ep it's title. Then we get a MOTW that lurks underground, pops up, eats a doggie, etc. Buffy seems at least partially convinced that Anya's transformed victim is the "what" that lies beneath.

    Then here in 3 we get Gnarl appearing just before Willow's return (which I also guess would lead me question Gnarl as a manifestation of Willow, although we have seen her pull a flower through the earth with her powerful connection to "everything"). Buffy is again misled into believing something that isn't true, in this case that Willow came back broken.

    And I think I recall something similar happening on several levels in the next ep (4). Perhaps you have a theory on this, or perhaps it really is just coincidence that fades as the season progresses, but right now I feel like it's something I didn't notice last time around and I'm curious to see if it continues to play out. I'm curious to see if it could later be argued that these misdirects are somewhat intentional on behalf of our eventual Big Bad in order to sow discombobulation amongst Buffy and the SG.

    Oh, and I completely agree about the final scene's power and poignancy. A fine example of how this show has really earned these emotional payoffs.

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    1. I think misdirection is very important to S7. As I argue in later episodes, Buffy takes a wrong step at one point and we all see it as correct because of underlying assumptions built up over 6+ years. So seeing misdirection early in the season is entirely consistent with that.

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