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Monday, January 28, 2013

First Date

[Updated May 3, 2013]

This being a Valentine’s Day episode (it aired on February 11), we can be sure that Buffy’s having a true First Date. What we can’t be quite so sure of is the identity of her date. It looks on the surface as if it’s Robin Wood, but I’d argue it was Spike. Since Xander is Buffy’s metaphorical heart, the fact that Xander is attracted to demons (Teacher’s Pet, Inca Mummy Girl, Anya, Something Blue, First Date) is letting us know by allegory that Buffy is attracted to Spike, not Wood. Similarly, Xander’s on-off behavior with Anya mirrors that of Buffy with Spike, particularly with Anya and Spike now comparable as “recovering” former demons.


Buffy has serious abandonment issues (metaphorically shown through Dawn in Older And Far Away: “People keep ... people have a tendency to go away ... and, I miss them.”). Her father left the family, Angel left town, Riley went off to Central America. Even Giles left her in Tabula Rasa. Spike’s the only one who asks if he should leave rather than telling her or, worse, just doing it. Buffy can’t say yes, even if she’s not entirely sure why. Why does everybody in the house think she’s still in love with Spike?
Wood’s attraction to Buffy has some faint Oedipal overtones. The fact that he seems to be attracted to Buffy because his mother was a Slayer is a bit off. If you accept this, Spike could stand for the father blocking the son's fantasized union with the mother. I wouldn’t insist on it, but I think it’s there.
Nor is Wood the only one with “mommy issues”. Here’s shadowkat posting the day after First Date aired:
“Do you remember our little spec about Spike's mom, leslie? The sick mother? In Fool For Love, Spike tells Dru what? "Mother's expecting me." And in Forever - it is Spike who helps Dawn resurrect Joyce, but insists on doing it the right way. And oh yes, which adult figure does Spike bond with? …Spike bonds with Joyce. Spike is chipped by the evil mom, Prof Walsh.
Methinks the mother issue with Wood and Spike is going to be a lot more multilayered than we know. Spike has some Mommy issues - Wood is our way of getting to and exploring them.”

Less speculatively, Wood was not able to save his real mother from Spike; killing Spike is his opportunity to save Buffy and make up for the fact that he was unable to save his mother. It’s obvious that Wood hasn’t forgotten his vengeance quest. In this case, he has the added incentive of removing a romantic rival – he definitely noticed that Buffy went first to Spike after the fight, not to Xander. Wood had a first date too. A date with the First, that is.
In a certain sense, this season involves a battle for souls. So far, Buffy’s winning with Spike, with Anya, and with Andrew. At the end of First Date, the First opens up a new front with Wood. It plays on Wood’s hunger for vengeance and exploits his jealousy. The First is perfectly happy if it can corrupt Wood even if that means becoming unable to use Spike in some way (similar to the way it shifted gears with Angel in Amends). Very soon, if not now, Wood’s going to have to ask himself just why it is he’s fighting demons.
Giles’s attitude towards Spike is more subtle. It’s the classic case of the father who never liked his daughter’s romantic choices, reinforced in this case by the obvious danger Spike poses. Needless to say, though, I think Buffy is right about Spike’s chip and that Giles is wrong:
BUFFY
Nothing's changed, Giles. Spike had a chip before, remember? When the First had him kill and sire all those people.
GILES
We have no idea if his chip was working then. A new chip might restrain him should the First attempt to activate him again.
BUFFY
Spike has a soul now. That's what's gonna stop him from hurting people.
GILES
Buffy...
BUFFY
He can be a good man, Giles. I feel it. But he's never gonna get there if we don't give him the chance…. You think I'm losing sight of the big picture, but I'm not. When Spike had that chip, it was like having him in a muzzle. It was wrong. You can't beat evil by doing evil. I know that.

Giles, I think, finds himself out of place and not sure what to do. Like any parent, his role has changed now that his child is an adult, and he’s fumbling for a new one. As I read him, he lacks confidence in Buffy’s adult decision-making because of the chaos of S6. He recognizes that she has feelings about Spike, whom he’s despised for years, and this reinforces his lack of confidence in her.
At the same time, he stepped away last year in order to let her succeed or fail on her own. That leaves him in an awkward position now. He can’t consult his books; there aren’t any, so he can’t use them to hand out wise advice. As a result, he’s frustrated and critical rather than helpful, and his attitude towards both Spike’s chip and the “date” reflect this. In the meantime, he’s reverted to the Giles we saw early on, the Giles of NKABOTFD:
“Giles: All right, I-I'll just jump in my time machine, go back to the twelfth century and ask the vampires to postpone their ancient prophecy for a few days while you take in dinner and a show.
Buffy: Okay, at this point you're abusing sarcasm.
Giles: Buffy, this is no ordinary vampire. But we have to stop him before he reaches the Master.
Buffy: But... Cute guy! Teenager! Post-pubescent fantasies!
Giles: Those will just have to be put on hold! The dark forces are aligning against us, and we have a chance to beat them back. Tonight we go into battle!”

and of Reptile Boy
“Giles:  Just because the paranormal is more normal and less... para of late is no excuse for tardiness or letting your guard down.
Buffy:  I haven't let my guard down.
Giles:  Oh, really? You yawned your way through weapons training last week, you, you, you, you skipped hand-to-hand entirely…
Giles:  When you live on top of a... a mystical convergence it's only a matter of time before a fresh hell breaks loose. Now is the time that you should train more strictly, you should hunt and patrol more keenly, you should hone your skills day and night.”

Now he’s even harsher in tone, with the clear implication that his alone is the adult path:
GILES
Children, enough. … Enough! Have you learned nothing from tonight's assorted chaos? There isn't time for fun and games and quips about orientation. (holds up flashcards) These—these aren't a joke. (flips through the flashcards) This—this happens. Girls are going to die. We may die. It's time to get serious. (walks out of the room)

Giles’s flashcards haven’t improved since Hush.
As I suggested in my post on Bring on the Night, he’s pushing Buffy very hard to adopt a seemingly more grown-up approach that appears to be very harsh. Buffy remains very susceptible to following Giles’s admonitions, especially in light of her experience on her own in S6. We’re about to see the result, notwithstanding Willow’s advice to “move on from this imposed super-self-reliance. Let somebody get close.”
Trivia notes: (1) The opening flashback of Giles and the axe was to Sleeper. (2) One of the tombstones in the graveyard scene has the name “Snyder” on it. AFAIK, it doesn’t mean anything. (3) Buffy and Dawn saw Principal Wood in the basement carrying a shovel in Bring on the Night. (4) Buffy mentioned a reality show about a millionaire, meaning the show Joe Millionaire. (5) Andrew’s “get thee behind me” admonition to Jonathan/First is from Matthew 4:10. (6) His “Jonathan slash The First” acknowledged the internet fans who’d been using that identifier. (7) The pizza stain Anya couldn’t get out of Buffy’s blouse was put there by Dawn in CWDP (“she’ll think it’s blood”). Another small detail the writers knew the fans would remember. (8) Xander thought it would be karmic if Lissa stood him up, referring to the fact that he left Anya at the altar. (9) Giles’s phrase “circling the wagons” is an American idiom referring to the scenes in Western movies in which pioneers bring their wagons into a circle when attacked. (10) Giles’s prediction that “something’s eating Xander’s head” is another back to the beginning reference, this time to Teacher’s Pet. (11) Another reference to CWDP can be seen in the fact that Buffy left her cell phone at home. In CWDP she didn’t hear it ringing. Either way, she’s not connected. (12) Xander envisioned the actor Scott Bakula, who played Captain Jonathan Archer on Star Trek: Enterprise. (13) For those who watch Angel the Series, the German word for “wood” is…. Holtz (spoilers at link, of course).

13 comments:

  1. I've got nothing but to say that shadowcat is very prescient.

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    1. Yes she is.

      When everyone was commenting in real time, we were all guessing which way the show would take us, of course. It's pretty funny to read old comments and see who got it right and who got it wrong. I've seen comments which called major plot points a year in advance. The person couldn't possibly have known; Joss might not even have thought of it at that point. But every so often somebody would just nail it.

      shadowkat got her share wrong too.

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  2. I really didn't like the exchange between Buffy and Giles in this ep for one reason: Buffy used an emotional appeal on Giles rather than a rational one. I think a rational approach would have worked better with Giles, and would've done more to show her as an adult.
    Giles was off rescuing Potentials, while she was there in Sunnydale with Spike. She was in that basement when he presented himself for the staking, not Giles. Pointing out these facts would (IMO) have gone a lot further in convincing Giles she was making a considered decision, and would've made a nice change of pace from her near constant refrain of "he's got a soul now."

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    1. I agree that Giles's lack of knowledge of these things is important, and I'm going to mention it when we get to LMPTM.

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    2. I agree that Buffy didn't persuade Giles, but she left him with nothing to say in response. She confirms Giles' observation of her in The Gift "She's a hero, you see" with her lines "it was wrong... you can't beat evil by doing evil." Giles obviously doesn't behave this way in The Gift when he kills Ben, but he hides this behavior from Buffy and the Scoobies and thus passively supports her moral code, at least to her face.

      Giles feels evil is necessary, but shields Buffy from this. That leads him to be conflicted, preventing him from taking the argument very far. I could see Buffy's response as playing on this conflict to end the argument. So if her goal isn't to win Giles over but to stop his complaints, then she succeeds.

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    3. Sorry, I deleted the comment by dianthus42 below because it contained a spoiler. Here it is again:

      SPOILER

      She shuts him up, but then he goes behind her back, conspiring with Wood to destroy Spike. There's a certain similarity in the circumstances with both Ben & Spike, but Ben made a conscious choice to work with Glory in the end. Ben didn't have Spike's strength of character.

      Maybe she wouldn't have won Giles over even if she'd made a more cogent arguement. Still, it would've been nice to see her try. It would(IMO)have been a more adult response, and less repetative. Ah, well.

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    4. Agreed, it certainly isn't the most adult thing to do,

      SPOILERS

      and it doesn't lead anywhere good.

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    5. I will say that Buffy's consistent about it. "He has a soul now" is what she told Xander and Dawn in Him, and it's

      SPOILER

      what she'll tell Angel in Chosen. Angel, of course, gets what that means.

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

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  4. I have a soft spot for this episode because of the scene between Willow, Xander, and Buffy, where Willow's folding laundry and they're talking about Buffy's attraction to "wicked energy." It's such a genuine, funny Scooby scene (I mean, come on, a "bidet of evil," the fact that Wood is 100 years younger than her type? This scene has me in stitches every time) and perhaps one of the last in the series. I know I'm just repeating what everyone else has griped about, but the lack of those moments made it more difficult to enjoy S7 episode by episode.

    SPOILER

    Speaking of Spike (and Wood's) mommy issues, in the commentary for LMPTM they said that they named Spike's mom Anne because it's Buffy's middle name, and chose the actress because she in some ways resembles SMG. They really went for the Oedipal overtones with that episode.

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  5. SPOILER


    They may have gone for Oedipal overtones in LMPTM, but it's about wanting to sex up your mom, not the other way 'round. Plus, I'm still surprised ME didn't get a cease and desist letter from Ann Rice's lawyers, it's such a blatant rip-off of Lestat's relationship with his mother. Ironic, considering the early mocking of Ann Rice's work (by Spike, himself, no less).

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  6. At this point, I'm more than a little confused about the First's ability to control Spike, and I hope the show clarifies what is going on there, what enables Spike to be used against his will etc. Is it the presence of the chip? Will lack of the chip make the problem better or worse? Is the presence of a soul a factor?

    So far, the only hard and fast rule is that the First will use psychological mindf**kery to try to turn or weaken the good guys, but it can't actually possess anyone and use them against their will. Except for Spike.

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    1. Three more episodes. Note, though, that it did take over Willow (tasted chalky).

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