Oh no. No, no, no, no. I’ve been wrestling with my reactions to “Seeing Red” since watching the episode earlier this week, and I keep coming back to that word: No.
I’ll deal with that big “no” later, because I don’t want what happens at the end of “Seeing Red” to color my opinion of the episode as a whole. The more I’ve kicked around “Seeing Red” in my head, the more I’m sure that it’s a really strong episode overall. And though I’ve got qualms about the Buffy writers’ refusal to let any of their characters have a lasting, happy relationship, I can’t deny that their dogged adherence to this motif has made me think about what it all might mean.
But again… later. First, a few words about how well this episode brings together multiple threads of the season’s plot. In particular, “Seeing Red” marks the ultimate rise and fall of The Trio, as Warren gets his hands on magic orbs that make him both super-strong and invulnerable, and then uses them to hit on girls, beat up some macho dudes at a bar, and rob an amusement park. In doing so, he pushes Jonathan too far—in one case literally, by sticking him in a demon-skin and shoving him through an enchanted passageway—and even abandons the fiercely loyal Andrew. The Trio’s story is a classic “power corrupts” scenario, but what’s made it interesting has been the dynamic between these three arrested adolescents, who find themselves falling into archetypal roles. Warren becomes a bully. Andrew becomes a lackey. And Jonathan becomes the guy they both pick on. It’s high school all over again, only in miniature, and with a different hierarchy.
Buffy meanwhile has stepped up her pursuit of The Trio, first by finding their lair, where she dodges a (very cool) buzzsaw trap. While Willow works on decoding The Trio’s computer files, Buffy considers who she can call on for help. Spike’s “not part of the team,” Anya’s “probably not feeling research-y,” and Xander’s “not really in the Scooby space.” Still, she goes to Xander anyway, and finds that he’s more hurt by her and Spike’s affair than his is by Anya’s fling with Spike. Xander snipes at Buffy, then walks forlornly around Sunnydale for a while as Whedon Music plays, until he ends up at a bar where he flirts with a woman but then ultimately ducks the pick-up. Instead, he goes back to Buffy’s house… where he finds Spike’s coat draped over the railing of the staircase.
As for why Spike’s coat was there, it’s because Spike came to see Buffy earlier in the evening, to apologize for sleeping with Anya and to confess that he was only in The Magic Box in the first place to see if he could buy a potion that would make him fall out of love with her. The scene between the two of them turns ugly fast though. Spike tries to rekindle the rough-love magic of their early couplings, but Buffy isn’t having it, and so what he’d hoped would be a romantic moment turns into an attempted rape. “Ask me again why I could never love you,” Buffy hisses as Spike flees in shame.
So Buffy has to put her two troubled men behind her in order to tackle the three troubled boys in The Trio, whom she catches as they’re in the process of hijacking an armored car outside the amusement park. “Is this your bank?” she quips. “Because if not, there’s going to be a fee for that.” Then Warren stars pummeling her, Andrew shouts, “Kill her!” and Jonathan gets in close so that he can tip her off that if she “smashes his orbs,” he’ll be powerless. So she does, after throwing Warren’s, “Goodnight, bitch,” right back at him. (Is it coincidental that Warren drew his macho power from two balls in a sack? I think not.) Warren gets away thanks to his rocket-pack, but Jonathan doesn’t have a pack and Andrew bangs his head on an awning when he tries to use his pack, so The Duo are taken away to the police station, while Andrew says of Warren, “He never really loved… hanging out with us.”
Like I said, exciting stuff, making good use of the cast and the storylines that have been developing all season. And there follows a nice coda, with Xander and Buffy reconciling, while the reunited Willow and Tara—who’ve spent most of the episode unclothed and rolling around in bed together—look on happily from the window.
Then Warren shows up with a gun, fires a couple of rounds, wounds Buffy and kills Tara.
And, well… I’m still processing my reaction to this turn of events. It was well-staged, for sure. Tara looks at her own blood spattered on Willow and says, “Your shirt….” before she collapses to the ground. Willow’s eyes flash red, which can’t be good. But damn it… another happy Whedon couple gets the shaft? Was this trip really necessary?
I’m reserving judgment until I see how this plays out, but my initial reaction is, as noted up top, “No.” I liked Tara. I loved Tara and Willow together, and especially the way that their romance was played as natural, not “shocking” or “subversive.” I suppose in a way it’s in keeping with the way Buffy has treated that relationship that it can be ruined in the same way that any heterosexual coupling can be. Still, in a season of wanton cruelty to characters, this twist may be the cruelest.
That said, in a very abstract way, I can appreciate it. And not just for “season six is about growing up” reasons. At the start of this season I suggested that the way Whedon and company dealt with the resurrection of Buffy the character could be read as a metaphor for their feelings about the resurrection of Buffy the show. I’ve seen flashes of that throughout the season, most notably in “Hell’s Bells” (where the writers try to map out how a Xander and Anya marriage will go and decide to take a different path to avoid it) and “Normal Again” (where the writers contemplate why Sunnydale has become such an un-fun place to be). And then there’s this episode, which seems so capriciously mean. When Dawn goes to see Spike and asks how he could hurt Buffy when he loves her so much, I hear the people who make this show asking themselves that same question. And though as a fan of the show it hurts to watch, on a meta-level, I confess that I’m kind of riveted by how willing these folks have been to play rough with their toys.
“The devil will show you bright things. Many colors.”
That’s Daniel Holtz, urging Connor to get into Angel’s world and see it for what it really is, while warning him that evil can be seductive. Holtz says this while puttering around a cruddy motel room, looking old and weak even though he and Connor have been gone for mere days in Earth-time. And he says this while Connor is pining for his home in Quor’toth—a home that Holtz knew to be a prison. But both men believe that God had a hand in bringing them together, so when Holtz says of Connor meeting his father that, “I knew this day would come… that’s why I never lied to you,” it’s easy to believe him.
Such is the way of the con man.
“Benediction” is another terrific, action-packed Angel episode, driving straight ahead to next week’s season three finale. And as is often the case with Angel episodes that fall in the middle of a fast-paced story-arc, I don’t have a lot to say about it beyond admiring how well it’s put together. At the beginning, Holtz tells Connor to keep his eyes open, and the rest of the episode turns out to be about people watching each other. And the whole time, Holtz is preparing a stunt that proves how the eyes can be deceived.
After last week’s introduction of Connor to the mean streets of L.A., this week he comes back to Angel, to watch him as Holtz advises. But then Cordelia has a vision of a bar full of vampires—planted by Wolfram & Hart as it turns out, as bait for both Wesley and his neck-slicer Justine—and Angel tells Connor, “There’s a lot of killing and violence. Wanna come?” He hands Connor a stake, and warns him not to nail any vamps “until they show their game face.” (“Will it look like yours did?” Connor digs.) Then they fight the vampires, side by side, like a well-oiled machine, while Wesley watches (and Lilah, and Justine).
Later, outside, Angel and Connor playfully fake-punch at each other and Connor actually smiles, while Holtz watches. And then, back at the hotel, Connor freaks out about all the demons he’s surrounded by, and Cordelia calms him down, while from above, Angel watches. The staging of these scenes—both in terms of the action choreography and the big reveals of who’s watching whom—is masterfully done.
The Connor freak-out is especially poignant because he lashes out at kindly Lorne, who a week ago was changing Connor’s diapers. He even makes a move to attack Cordelia, but then she gets all glowy and sedates him—cleanses the Quor’toth out of him, she thinks—while advising him that not all demons are bad, and that not all demons look like demons.
That’s good advice, given what happens next. Holtz reconnects with Justine, telling her that he survived for years in Quor’toth because he was sustained by hate. (“Hate gets a bad rap,” Justine agrees.) Then he hatches his plan. Angel goes to see Holtz while Fred and Gunn take Connor out to see the ocean. While they’re there, Fred and Gunn mention Angel’s itinerary to each other, not realizing that Connor has excellent hearing. Connor races back to the motel, where Holtz is laying dead, with two puncture marks in his neck, left by Justine at Holtz’s command. So now Connor thinks Angel killed the only real father he’s ever known.
It’s a brilliant play on Holtz’s part, and reveals what a stone bastard he’s become. Because now I’m wondering: Did he ever care for Connor, during all their years together? Or has he always seen the boy as a demonspawn that he could turn into a tool to exact the worst kind of revenge on his enemy? Holtz seems like such an honorable man. But sometimes you have to look closer.
- Very funny scene in “Seeing Red” as Anya tries to get a woman to wish a curse upon her no-good man, then gets sidetracked by her own gripes about Xander and cuts the woman off as she’s saying, “I wish Carl’s flesh….”
- Buffy is disgusted by The Trio’s Vampirella statuette.
- We’ve seen a lot of different vampire-dustings during the run of Buffy but I don’t think we’ve ever seen a vamp kick Buffy while he’s in the middle of dissipating before.
- Warren’s Picard. Jonathan’s Deeana Troi.
- Spike motors off at the end of “Seeing Red,” after a troubling monologue back in his lair where he moans, “What have I done? Why didn’t I do it?”
- Clem understands why Buffy’s a little hard to figure as a potential girlfriend. “I had this cousin who got resurrected by a shaman,” he says. “Hoo-boy, was that a mess.”
- When Buffy says that The Trio has been reduce to “Evil Uno,” Xander asks, “The sinister but addictive card game?”
- I hope Nicholas Brendon gets his life together and writes a book someday about his troubles. It’d be interesting to hear from his perspective whether he felt like any of the Xander storylines in the later seasons were a direct comment on his life, and how it felt to play those scenes.
- I saw on Wikipedia that “Seeing Red” leaked on the internet a week early. For any of you who were watching at the time: Was Tara’s death widely spoiled? (Also, what was it like to see Amber Benson’s name in the credits for the first time?)
- “Benediction” is credited to Tim Minear as writer and director, and it’s a fine piece of work on both counts. It’s hard to know who you can credit for what when it comes to television, but one thing I’ve always liked about both Buffy and Angel is that they don’t let major events in the characters’ lives pass by without some time for stewing, and for considering the ramifications. You see that here in “Benediction,” as the return of Connor and Holtz is dealt with deeply, but without neglecting the forward momentum of the plot. And you certainly saw it in Terriers, which Minear worked on. Every terrible turn in Terriers propelled the heroes of that show into a new predicament, and tested their friendship along the way. Is that something Minear learned from Whedon, or something that Minear brought to Angel?
- And speaking of the cleverness of “Benediction,” there’s all kinds of foreshadowing of the episode’s ending woven throughout. At one point, Cordelia mistakes Groo for Angel. At another, Angel doesn’t immediately realize that Connor means Holtz when he says, “You speak as though you’re my father.” It’s all leading up to the moment where Connor is misled to believe that Angel killed Holtz.
- Fred on Connor’s potential safety on the streets of Los Angeles: “So he survived an unspeakable hell dimension. Whom hasn’t?”
- Cordelia meanwhile is over-the-moon about the Angel/Connor reuniting. He tells her all about their fight in the bar, while she smiles and says that she saw the whole thing in her head. “It’s beautiful,” she says. Meanwhile, Groo feels left out.
- Glad to see that Connor’s still relying on junk food for his meals.
- Lastly, the saga of Wes and Lilah continues in “Benediction,” as she invites him to the bar to see Justine get killed. When he says he’s not interested and starts to leave, she asks, “Will he go straight to his car or will he stop to warn her first?” He stops to think about it, which tells Lilah all she needs to know. To be continued….