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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Two to Go

[Updated May 2, 2013]

Let’s say this right upfront: Giles’s entry into the Magic Box at the end of Two to Go is one of the great moments of the series. Maybe not quite as good as Buffy’s “Me.” in Becoming 2, but still damn fine.
Alas, the rest of this episode is pretty much a train wreck. The problems include the return with a vengeance [heh] of the magic/drugs theme, complete with hit-us-over-the-head terminology; the low quality of the special effects; and some fairly pedestrian dialogue. But the real problem is much more substantial than any of these and cuts right at the heart of not just this episode, but the whole end of the season.


In Villains, Buffy tries to save Willow before she gets to Warren. Why? Because “BUFFY: Willow, if you do this [kill Warren], you let Warren destroy you too. … [to Xander and Dawn] There are limits to what we can do. There should be. Willow doesn't want to believe that.  … Warren's going to get what he deserves. I promise . But I will *not* let Willow destroy herself [by killing Warren].”
But at the end of Villains, Willow kills Warren anyway, and does so in a horrifying way. So now that Buffy is faced with the fact that Willow did the very thing which Buffy said would “destroy” her, what does Buffy say in TTG: “XANDER: Warren was a cold-blooded killer of women just warming up. You ask me, that bastard had it coming to him. BUFFY: Maybe. Andrew and Jonathan don't. … whatever she's gonna do, she starts with those two. (indicating Andrew and Jonathan) They're the line she cannot cross. … I'm not protecting you, Jonathan. None of us are. We're doing this for Willow. The only reason it happens to be your lucky day? Is because Willow kills you, she crosses a line, I lose a friend.”
Somehow, the line Willow couldn’t cross went from Warren to Jonathan/Andrew without a beat. It’s an ethical copout. Making things worse is that there are several bits of dialogue suggesting that it’s not “really” Willow, that the magic is “making” her do these things. For example, Buffy says in Villains that Willow is “messing with forces that want to hurt her. All of us.” All of these lines tend to obscure Willow’s ethical responsibility for having killed Warren. To me, that diminishes the force of the entire sequence of events. After all, if Warren “had it coming”, or if it was the magicks, not Willow, which tortured and killed him, then there’s no reason to hold Willow responsible for what “she” did and no reason to worry about her “crossing a line”. Villains manages to keep this distinction pretty clear, but it all collapses in TTG.
The central scenes involve the confrontation between Buffy and Willow. I see that as metaphor, but I don’t want to discuss the metaphor now because that would spoil Grave. Similarly, Spike’s goal remains ambiguous but will be clear by the end of Grave. I’ll hold off discussion until then. In the meantime I’ll offer a more light-hearted take on one scene.
Some viewers felt that the scene of Willow breaking into the jail was too unrealistic, too public, within the accepted mythology of the show. It’s not a particularly good scene, but calling it “unrealistic” because she would have been arrested led me to make this response:
People v. Rosenberg:
(The judge turns to defense counsel: "Your witness."):

DC: Officer, where were you standing when you saw this damage to the police station?

Officer: Outside, on the sidewalk.

DC: What was the nature of the damage?

Officer: Well, bricks and stones were torn out of the front of the building until there was a large hole. Also, some of the bricks fell on the squad cars on the street and damaged them.

DC: Officer, did you get a good look at the defendant?

Officer: Yes.

DC: And you can see her in court today, right?

Officer: Yes.

DC: How tall is she?

Officer: About 5'5"

DC: And how much does she weigh?

Officer: Maybe 115.

DC: How tall are you?

Officer: 6'1"

DC: How much do you weigh?

Officer: 210.

DC: Officer, you have to stay in shape for your job, don't you?

Officer: Yes.

DC: Do you lift weights for that?

Officer: Yes.

DC: Could you tear bricks and stones out of the wall of the police station with your bare hands?

Officer: No way.

DC: Do you believe this woman could?

Officer: No.

DC: Did the defendant have any tool that you saw?

Officer: No.

DC: How, then, did she remove the bricks?

Officer: I don't know. They just came flying out.

DC: Let me get this straight. The defendant was just standing there on the sidewalk and the bricks came out.

Officer (defensively): Right.

DC: She never touched the police station, not with her hands, not with a tool, not at all?

Officer (standing his ground): No.

DC: But the bricks came out without her touching them?

Officer (very defensive): That's what I saw.

DC (sarcastically): So the defendant used some psychic power, then?

Officer (angry): I don't know.

DC: If the defendant never touched the wall, how do you know she was the one who used these (sarcastic again) psychic powers?

Officer (unsure): She was standing there.

DC: Well, you were standing there too, weren't you?

Officer: Yes.

DC: How do we know you didn't do it? Did you use your psychic powers to damage the police station?

(Laughter)

Officer (resigned): No.

DC: Did you use your (sarcastic) psychic power to stop her?

Officer: I don't have psychic power.

DC: But she does?

Officer: Yes.

DC: No more questions.

Trivia notes: (1) The title follows from Willow’s last words at the end of Villains: “One down.” (2) Andrew’s “Laugh it up, fuzzball” to Jonathan is a quote from Star Wars. (3) When Andrew says that being in prison is “like his [Warren’s] test”, it’s a very similar reaction to that of April in IWMTLY: she suggested that Warren had given her a “girlfriend test”. (4) Andrew’s description of Willow as “Dark Phoenix” makes the story line source explicit (see trivia notes to Villains). (5) Jonathan said that Willow wore “floods”, referring to pants which are too short. (6) The scene of Willow on the truck was taken from the movie Vampires. (7) Spike’s “Here we are now. Entertain us.” is presumably quoting the Nirvana song “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. (8) Dawn told Clem that Rack’s place moves, which we learned in Wrecked. (9) Willow told Rack that she “just wanted to take a little tour.” That’s what he told her in Wrecked. (10) Anya asked what would happen if Willow “filleted their souls”, a pun on filet of sole. (11) Willow’s reference to herself as “side man” goes back at least to Fear, Itself, where she tells Buffy “I’m not your sidekick”. (12) Andrew described Willow as “Sabrina”, referring to Sabrina the Teen-Age Witch. (13) When Willow tells Buffy that being a slayer is “about the power”, that hearkens back to Checkpoint and forward to all of S7.

6 comments:

  1. Buffy's transition of lines not to be crossed is an ethical copout, but its completely consistent with her continued refusal to accept her own adulthood, especially with Willow representing her spirit. She has to make allowances for Willow, because if she doesn't what does that say about her.

    And the characters continue to operate with the magic=drugs metaphor, and the show plays into it, but I still don't feel the show is validating it. After all, it is Buffy saying those things, and Buffy's judgement on this subject is flawed.

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    1. I can see that Buffy might have given Willow a pass on Warren for the reasons you suggest. It's the sudden about-face between Villains and TTG which grates. And even if that works in metaphor -- I'm dubious -- it fails as story line.

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  2. I always thought the truck scene referenced Terminator 2, although it's been a while since I've seen it. I liked the idea of tying in Terminator because it reinforced how single-minded and unstoppable she was.

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    1. ...though the comparison with a robot may only further blur lines of her culpability.

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  3. I pretty much agree with everything said about Villains and TTG. Dark Willow could have been a much better finale arc if the magic metaphor had been properly developed. I do agree with Aeryl that it's not clear what the writers actually believe, and I do think S7 mitigates some of this mess, so it isn't a total shark jump. I don't listen to commentaries (someday...) so I wonder if the writers' more nuanced view of Willow and magic was always the plan for S7, if it developed organically after the fact (when they realized their missteps), or if it was a reaction to fandom's input.

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    1. Yes, S7 does undo some of the harm.

      Your question is an interesting one, and I've never heard anything about it either. My guess is that it was a reaction to fandom, but I don't know.

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