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Monday, January 14, 2013

Bring on the Night

[Updated May 3, 2013]

As should be obvious by now, the writers depended on the viewers having an obsessive memory for the details of previous episodes. By S7 there are numerous references to earlier seasons in each episode, and the whole plot line of S7 depends on everyone remembering the events of Amends. Bring on the Night contains a number of scenes which follow from Amends, and if you haven’t re-watched Amends in some time it’s probably helpful to do that now.
In Amends the First tried to get Angel kill himself (among other things). Here we see it work on both Willow and Spike, in addition to using the Ubervamp against Buffy. I’ll talk first about Willow and Spike, because what happens with them reminds us of what happened to Angel and thus what the First is. With that in mind, I’ll turn to the main plot of Buffy and the Potentials.


When the First takes over Willow’s spell, her fear afterwards – “It's still in me. I feel it!” – can be read both as metaphor and as consequence. Willow still fears the potential evil inside her and that fear prevents her from using her full abilities.
In storyline terms, Spike’s torture in BotN seems odd. Why not just dust him? As I see it, the physical torture is designed to weaken his mental resistance so that the seductions of the First can take hold again.
Metaphorically, Spike’s torment, like Willow’s fear from her spell, represents his punishment of himself for his recent “binge”. The punishment is mental as well as physical. The First tells Spike how awful he is, how worthless, just as Jenny’s ghost told Angel in Amends. That’s what the First is – it’s your own fears, insecurities, isolation, and existential despair telling you that you will fail, that you’re worthless, that you should murder your best friend, that Annabelle should run away, that you can’t win the game.
It’s Buffy’s faith in Spike – the belief that he is not alone – which gives him the strength to overcome the torments of the First (storyline) and his own recriminations (metaphor):
DRUSILLA/FIRST
Do you know why you're alive?
SPIKE
(weakly) Never figured you for existential thought, luv. I mean, you hated Paris.
DRUSILLA/FIRST
You're alive for one reason, and one reason only. Because I wish it. Do you know why I wish it? (holds her hands to her heart) Because I'm not done with you.
SPIKE
(scoffs) Give it up. (Drusilla/First rolls her eyes and turns away) Whatever you are, whatever you get away with, I'm out. You can't pull this puppet's strings anymore.
DRUSILLA/FIRST
(snaps back to face Spike) And what makes you think you have a choice? What makes you think you will ever be any good at all in this world?
SPIKE
She does. Because she believes in me.

Spike can believe in himself because Buffy believes in him. “I mean, the whole show in a way, the whole show ping pongs between the darkest night of the soul and this whole yearning for belief.” Marti Noxon.
I doubt Spike’s mention of existentialism is accidental.
I think Juliet Landau did a great job. She had to play someone else playing Drusilla. That meant she had to be similar to Drusilla without actually being her (Spike: “You’re not Drusilla.”). That’s hard to do and she did it very well.
While Willow and Spike are important for showing us how the First works, they are secondary to the plot of this episode. BotN introduces us to the first Potentials, or “slayers in training” as they’re sometimes called. Their presence explains the young women we saw murdered in Lessons, Beneath You, and Sleeper. We’ll see more Potentials as we go along. The Potentials were widely unpopular as a group and often individually unpopular as well. I personally don’t have any problem with them per se, though individuals among them will sometimes annoy me.
Regardless of your own reaction, the important point to remember is that the Potentials play a crucial metaphorical role in the season. We’ll be told that metaphor two episodes hence, so I’ll hold off discussing it until then. For now I’ll just say that what they’re crucial for is the solution to the problem pointed out to Buffy by “Joyce” (it’s really the First; Jane Espenson had to assure everyone because viewers were so confused – see trivia note 2) in her second appearance:
JOYCE
Buffy, evil isn't coming, it's already here. Evil is always here. Don't you know? It's everywhere.
BUFFY
And I have to stop it.
JOYCE
How are you gonna do that?
BUFFY
I-I don't know yet, but—
JOYCE
Buffy, no matter what your friends expect of you, evil is a part of us. All of us. It's natural. And no one can stop that. No one can stop nature, not even—

Note that this is essentially the same problem the real Joyce pointed out to Buffy in Gingerbread. There’s a very good reason for all these S3 references, which I’ll explain in the finale.
Right now, all we know is that the Potentials are in danger. The First intends to terminate the Slayer line:
GILES
…We always feared that this day would come, when there'd be an attack against not just an individual slayer, but against the whole line….
BUFFY
The First. That's what it wants.
GILES
Yes, to erase all the slayers in training and their watchers along with their methods.
BUFFY
And then Faith, and then me. And with all the potentials gone and no way of making another, it's the end. No more slayer. Ever.

Buffy describes the slayer line as running through the Potentials, then Faith, then her. That’s wrong in light of Joss’s official explanation after S5 that the Slayer line now runs through Faith, and it bothers a lot of viewers. I don’t really see it as much of a problem, just a case of Buffy being wrong. As we saw in CWDP, Buffy’s own life has been dramatically affected by her role as “the” Slayer, so it’s understandable that she’d see it that way. Her view is consistent with the season theme, but I’ll leave it there to avoid spoilers.
The scene where she escapes the Ubervamp in the first encounter nicely recapitulates the scene in which she and Xander escaped the vamps in The Harvest. It’s another “back to the beginning” reference, but I also see it as a “starting over” theme. She faced the challenge once when she was young, now she faces a similar but more difficult challenge as an adult. We’re supposed to compare and contrast how she deals with the new challenge.
Giles is the one who sets her that challenge. Since Giles’ role in S7 gets a lot of criticism, I might as well say up front that I think the writers perfectly capture a parent whose daughter has grown up but who still wants to pressure her to act like the parent thinks she should. Giles, it’s clear, remains Ripper at heart, willing to do what he believes is necessary regardless of moral concerns, as we see from him stealing the Council’s books because “there wasn't time for-for bureaucracy or debate”.
Giles is seriously frightened by the destruction of an institution which has dominated his life, and we can see that fright in his words to Buffy: “If the slayer line is eliminated, then the hellmouth has no guardian. The balance is destroyed. I'm afraid it falls to you, Buffy. Sorry. I mean, we'll do what we can, but you're the only one who has the strength to protect these girls—and the world—against what's coming.”
What Giles says is perfectly logical (Giles = mind), even inevitable, given what he knows, indeed, what we all know. Faith aside because she’s in prison, the situation is now as it was in Welcome to the Hellmouth when Giles explained to Buffy why she had to accept her duty as the Slayer in essentially the same words: “Because you are the Slayer. Into each generation a Slayer is born, one girl in all the world, a Chosen One….” Every single episode in S1 repeated this point in the introduction: “In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.”
Buffy’s role as the Slayer means that she must necessarily end up in charge. I’ve discussed that consequence previously, most notably in connection with Xander’s Lie in Becoming, and it’s directly related to the season 7 themes. Think of it this way: Because she’s the Slayer, only she can be the General. That’s been true since I pointed it out in my post on Becoming, since Jane Espenson said it on the DVD commentary to Earshot, and since Buffy reiterated it in Selfless: “in the end the Slayer is always cut off. There's no mystical guidebook. No all-knowing council. Human rules don't apply. There's only me. I am the law.”
So what Giles says may seem harsh, and Xander calls him on it, but it’s logically inescapable.
Thus, it’s in response to Giles’s statement that Buffy delivers her speech at the end. That speech, and the events which follow in the next episode, form the first turning point in the season and you need to be thinking about its consequences from this point on. Buffy’s asserting her role as General in a dramatic and forceful way. But of course Generals are isolated and we know that Buffy feels isolated; in fact, being the General is precisely what causes her sense of isolation. This is Buffy’s dilemma, and it’s directly tied to both of the other concerns she’s expressed in previous episodes, namely that she’s isolated and that she can’t save them all.
Given the First’s all out war on the Council and Buffy’s call to war in turn, I thought it would be interesting to quote DEN on the similarity to old war movies:
“The "war" metaphor is shaping s7 to the point where BOTN resembles those old WWI movies like "Wings" and "Dawn Patrol." Willow is the veteran with too many combat hours, muttering "sorry I let you down, old boy" as her shaking hands try to hold a scotch and soda. Xander is the cockney gunner, keeping his sense of humor as things unravel. Anya is the squadron American, the volunteer from far away, never quite understanding the people she fights alongside. In Giles we have the wise and experienced adjudant, prohibited by age and wounds from climbing into a cockpit. The SiTs are the green lieutenants, doomed to early and horrible deaths--certainly doomed if, like Annabella, they panic and break formation. And there's Buffy, coming on like Errol Flynn or Richard Barthelmess. ‘Chaps, I know it's hell up there. Von Richthofen's flying circus is tearing us to pieces. We're outnumbered and outgunned. But the lads in the trenches are counting on us, and the squadron will do its duty to the last man!’"

No matter how many times I watch Buffy’s speech, I get chills. Not just the words but SMG’s delivery, both just suck you in. If you really love the speech, though, ask yourself just how Buffy’s going to “kill” an incorporeal being, particularly in light of “Joyce’s” obviously true statements.
Trivia notes: (1) The chronology of this episode is impossible to square with the date stamp at the beginning of CWDP. (2) Yes, we saw “Joyce” touch things, even though the First shouldn’t be able to. That’s because Buffy is dreaming of her. As in all dreams, the ordinary rules don’t apply. (3) Xander mentioned the mummy hand while repairing the windows, which was from Life Serial. (4) Xander’s description of Andrew as “Sleeping Ugly” is, of course, a reference to Sleeping Beauty. (5) Dawn suggested that Andrew was in a “fugue state”, which is “a rare psychiatric disorder characterized by reversible amnesia for personal identity, including the memories, personality and other identifying characteristics of individuality.” (6) Dawn mentioned that “kids of today like Jackass”, which was a movie. Of sorts. (7) The scene of Spike held under water was originally supposed to be Holy Water, but the Standards & Practices folks (a euphemism for censors) nixed that. As a result, the scene doesn’t make any sense because vampires don’t breathe and so holding them underwater is pointless. (8) Kennedy apologized for “the British invasion” in Buffy’s kitchen, which refers to the numerous British music groups which followed The Beatles to America. (9) The Turok-han name was an obvious homage to Lord of the Rings. (10) Camden Toy, who played Gnarl and one of the Gentlemen, plays the Ubervamp. (11) Principal Wood mentioned the movies of Rob Schneider, for whom see the link. Describing his movies as “evil” is a joke. (12) Principal Wood told Buffy that “I'm only saying that once you see true evil, it can have some serious afterburn, and then you can't unsee what you saw. Ever.” “Afterburn” is a term from psychotherapy which means "the period of time before a past event is assimilated".  Note that his words apply to Buffy seeing the First in Amends. (13) Xander’s suggestion to trap the Ubervamp in the pantry is a reference to the movie Signs by M. Night Shyamalan. (14) Andrew’s “spider sense” is a reference to Spiderman. (15) For Andrew’s mention of various “super-villain[s] like Dr. Doom or Apocalypse or-or The Riddler”, see the links. (16) To get really obvious, the scene with Buffy and the Ubervamp in the factory is an homage to The Terminator.

7 comments:

  1. I never quibbled with Buffy's line of thought over the order of Slayerhood, even though you are right it goes through Faith now. Regardless of whether it makes sense for Buffy to center herself, The First'd take Faith out before Buffy to make sure no new Slayer was Chosen before killing Buffy, ending the Slayer line for good.

    Buffy's speech is chilling and poignant, but wow it really does set the stage for all of the stuff that goes wrong this season(and beyond).

    COMIC SPOILERS

    Buffy's fault in Season 8 is that, even though she shared her power, she never disbanded the army. She maintained the role of General, even though it was isolating, which of course, leads to the troubles of that season. To me, her sharing the power was to represent dismantling
    the patriarchy, and that by keeping the militaristic stance of the Slayers was more of a "using the masters tools" thing, where she kept a hierarchy in the Slayers, instead of a sisterhood.

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  2. COMIC SPOILERS Cont'd,

    That was actually one of the big problems I had with the S8 comics. The TV show spent so much time (and did such a good job) of leading Buffy up to that realization about sharing and, without hammering the point too much, providing an alternative to patriarchal norms. Then the comic sort of went back to the old, "I'm with you, but I'm alone" theme. The season had other, bigger problems, to be sure, but that one disappointed me more than most.

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

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    2. Sorry, I deleted Aeryl's comment because it needed a spoiler tag. Here it is with one:

      SPOILERS FOR S7 and 8

      The season would have been better off if it had taken the time to explain WHY things ended up that way.

      Like maybe Buffy, after so long as the sole Slayer, checked out of the decision making until after the choice had been made to maintain the army and put Buffy at the head of it, and she felt no choice but to lead.

      Anything that would have shown why Buffy didn't grow as the show showed she had.

      Of course without these characters growing as we'd like them to, there would be no story. What would the conflict have been, had Buffy disbanded the Slayer army and set up small squads of one to two Slayers with one Watcher between patrolling major cities all over the world?

      I think Season 8 works really well, if you look at it as the Show=Feminist Empowerment, and the Comics=Feminist Backlash, but to tell that story, the empowerment can't be all hunky dory.

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    3. SPOILERS FOR S7 & 8, cont'd

      The idea of exploring feminist backlash is an interesting one and a lot could be done with it. A huge part of Buffy's decision at the end of S7 was to endow these girls with a power/gift/responsibility that they hadn't asked for. Granted, it was latent in them by being Potentials, but they might have gone through all their lives as Potentials with no real calling had Buffy (and Willow) not acted as they did. There's an awesome parallel there with Buffy of S1 ("Giles, I'm only 16. I don't wanna die.") And I guess a lot could have been done with Buffy confronting herself over that decision, being confronted by the other Slayers, etc.

      I wouldn't be one to suggest alternative plotlines or narrative arcs, but I guess I'd like to have seen the backlash handled on a more personal (and, frankly, less whacky) level than on the global "we must stop this army of women" level that they went for, which forced Buffy (the character) into the box of having to rehash all that leadership stuff.

      I've heard S9 gets smaller again, but I haven't gone down that road yet. Maybe when it's all out and I can read it in a big weekend bender . . .

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