“Get It Done”
I’m starting to find The First Evil compelling as a Big Bad, and especially as the final Big Bad of the series. Throughout these seven seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the show has made the themes of trust and partnership and maturity integral to the narrative. So what is The First Evil? It’s the voice of doubt and dissent, working on the mind and the emotions to tear down that trust. That’s a clever way to bring the show to an end, by having the heroes face the ultimate villain: their own lack of confidence, in themselves and in each other.
It also creates an exciting moment of cognitive dissonance in “Get It Done.” The Summers’ house has been overrun with Potentials—so much so that Anya insists she’s “gonna call a health inspector”—and Kennedy is trying to motivate them, drill instructor-style, by telling them how worthless they are. Then Chloe hangs herself in her room, egged on by The First, who appears to Buffy and the rest in Chloe’s form. After The First leaves, Buffy gives a big motivating speech of her own—as she’s wont to do—in which she calls Chloe an idiot and lambasts everybody else for being timid and useless. Xander and Willow are particularly hurt, because while they’re fine with being soldiers in Buffy’s army, they’re all also supposed to be her friends. (Cue Anya: “I’m not.”)
The real, fascinating question that “Get It Done” raises is: What is the line between destroying a person and lighting a fire under them? What distinguishes what The First does to people’s self-confidence and what Kennedy and Buffy are doing, aside from intent?
It’s especially interesting that this question comes up in an episode where Wood officially enters the Scooby circle, by giving Buffy his mother’s old Slayer kit and praising Buffy for “redefining the job.” Is Wood really there to help, or just to get closer to Spike, so he can kill the vampire that killed his mother and stole her trenchcoat? Similarly, the end result of Buffy’s big “toughen up” speech might be to push Spike back towards the dark side—by the end of the episode he’s smoking and wearing his trenchcoat again—and to push Willow to embrace the scarier side of magic.
And then there’s Buffy’s own weaknesses, which manifest when she digs through Wood’s mother’s supplies and finds a box containing “shadow-casters” which open a portal to another dimension. Without fully considering the consequences, Buffy rushes into the portal, ignoring the warning in the old texts about a necessary “exchange,” such that when she pops in, a demon pops out. Worse, once she’s inside the portal, Buffy meets the ancients who created The First Slayer, and when they try to transfer some demon-essence into her for her fight with The First Evil, she bucks and turns them down, not realizing right then that The First Evil has legions of nigh-invincible Turok-Han amassed down in The Hellmouth, and that her headstrong-ness may have doomed everybody.
I liked “Get It Done,” but I can’t say I loved it, because I’m not entirely sure that the Buffy writers (in this case primarily Doug Petrie, who also directed) see those shade of gray between Buffy and The First that I noted above. I think we’re supposed to be fully behind Buffy when she yells at everybody. But while it’s certainly cathartic to hear Buffy ask Anya why she hangs around if she’s not committed, I couldn’t help thinking: Where’s the leadership here? Buffy tells these fools that they suck, but what plan has she put in place? How is she deploying these soldiers? Without orders, how can they accomplish anything?
Or maybe I’m just worried that Buffy snapping at Xander and Willow will be the start of another string of pre-finale episodes where everyone’s mad at each other and nobody trusts anybody. And I’m not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, that aspect of Buffy has always been a drag. On the other: it’s kind of a tradition.
I was really looking forward to “Storyteller,” because I’d heard it was Andrew-centric, and that it’s one of those Buffy episodes with an adventurous structure (which I generally appreciate). And I’d say that about half of “Storyteller” didn’t disappoint.
Framed at the start as Andrew’s documentary project—and, to a large extent, as Andrew’s fantasy version of his own life—the episode offers ample Andrew initially. We see him first smoking a pipe in what looks to be a lavishly appointed drawing room, surrounded by Star Wars paraphernalia, promising to regale us with tales of Buffy, Slayer Of The Vampires. Then we find out that Andrew’s actually in the bathroom, talking into a cheap video-camera while a line of Potentials wait outside. (“Why can’t you just masturbate like the rest of us?” Anya gripes.)
The episode continues in this vein for a bit, mixing Andrew’s home video footage with his own narration (“It’s the story of ultimate triumph tainted with the bitterness of what’s been lost in the struggle!”) and his own rosy view of his past and present. He describes himself as a former supervillain, and takes us back to old scenes from Buffy episodes, now with dialogue that makes him look more badass than he actually was. He fantasizes about how he imagined Warren’s promise that they’d “live as Gods” would’ve panned out, and he calls Jonathan “just the cutest thing,” while not acknowledging the direct role he played in his friend’s death. (When describing how Jonathan’s blood opened The Hellmouth Seal, Andrew just says, “Due to some circumstances it got opened up a little bit.”)
All of the Andrew documentary material is both funny and poignant, as he pans off of Buffy when she begins one of her long motivating speeches, and trains his camera on a set of keys while talking about Dawn, and zooms past Kennedy and Willow making out so that he can get a closer look at Xander’s work on the front windows. (Andrew thinks Xander is “extraordinary… the heart of the team.”) It’s fun to see the reactions of the team to Andrew’s filming too, whether it’s Spike making sure he’s in good light before going off on a rant or Buffy questioning whether the world really needs to know about her.
My problem with “Storyteller” though is that it’s not as consistent or as bold in its structure as something like “Conversations With Dead People” or “Once More With Feeling” or “Hush.” Maybe it’s because it arrives so late in a busy final season, but “Storyteller” shoehorns in some non-Andrew plot points, and plays down the documentary concept in its second half, once Buffy enlists Andrew to help keep The Seal from driving the Sunnydale students mad. She pretends that she’s going to kill him to complete the ritual, but she actually just needs his tears, which she gets by having Andrew confront what he actually did to Jonathan, not the trumped-up, elided version in his head. The big moment felt a little under-baked to me, perhaps because Andrew hasn’t been significant enough of a player in this season for Buffy’s big “Stop telling stories!” speech to resonate.
Much more effective is the end of the episode, with Andrew looking back into his camera and switching it off, after admitting that he killed Jonathan and that he deserves to die. The moment’s so stark, and so real (and so well-acted by Tom Lenk). It’s also telling that the ending comes after Andrew has learned how The Seal can possess people and turn them violent. He has an excuse now for his behavior, and yet he refuses to take it. If this season of Buffy is ultimately about knowing yourself and taking responsibility, then Andrew may be further along his journey now than anyone else on the show.
- Only six more Buffys to go! Starting to feel a little sad about this.
- Andrew was only a one-scene wonder in “Get It Done,” but it was a heck of a scene: He walks into the living room in an apron, complaining, “This funnel cake is kicking my ass!” Then he introduces himself to Wood not as a hostage but “more as a ‘guest’-age,” and complains to Buffy that she’s bringing too many people around. “They’ll see the big board!” he says, aping Dr. Strangelove. (They really do have a big board, though. Andrew bought one. Which is why he asks Buffy, “Where do we put our receipts?”)
- Good scene also between Anya and Spike, who commiserate about her decision to be human, after which Anya comes on so strong suggesting they have sex again that Spike snarls, “You’re like a dog with a bone… My bone.” (Luckily for Spike, they’re interrupted by a demon. Later, when Anya complains that he fought like “a wimpire,” Spike counters, “I’m just the one who beat him off,” then quickly adds, “Repelled him would perhaps be the better phrase.”)
- I probably didn’t pay attention closely enough, but was it explained where Giles is in these episodes?
- Willow, trying to cover for the Potentials training exercises when Wood comes over: “I see that our preparation for the school-pep-dance-cheer-drill contest are coming along. Bring it on!” (Wood lets her off the hook, telling her that Buffy’s already filled him in on everything. For example, he knows she’s been “experimenting… with the magics.”)
- The First quotes Tigger. Not the most chilling pop-culture reference in evildom.
- Anya and Xander disagree over which of them is responsible for providing “the much-needed sarcasm” to the team.
- Dawn has become a good translator and researcher. Most underrated Scooby?
- Wood, on seeing a pig—presumably the pig that Andrew failed to sacrifice—scurrying past The Hellmouth Seal, mutters, “God, I hope that’s not a student.”
- Wood also raises a valid question: “Why do any of you trust each other? You’ve all been evil at some point.”
- In a flashback to their days in Mexico, Andrew and Jonathan hear spooky words in Spanish, and Jonathan suggests they look it up “in the dictionario.”
- In another flashback—or more accurately, a fantasy—Andrew recalls his days with The Trio and how he once proposed a plan to make Buffy super-magnetic. When Warren worries about whether they’d be bound to Buffy by their belt-buckles, Andrew coolly replies, “In my plan, we are belt-less!”
- Andrew put his Jonathan murder knife in the Summers’ cutlery drawer.
- Anya—perhaps still revved-up by her time with Spike in the previous episode—hops into bed with Xander, but afterward both agree that the whole affair felt like a “one more time,” not a rekindling. Me, I’m not so sure.
- During a Seal-related melee at Sunnydale High, Wood takes a swipe at Spike, but he comes up short and nobody sees him do it. I think Wood’s going to need to commit one way or the other very soon.
- I’m always curious to hear about the initial fan-reaction to certain incidents and episodes in Buffydom. Having seen directly the way that, say, some Lost fans and Fringe fans have reacted to offbeat episodes—by grumbling that they were a waste of time that didn’t advance the story—I’m wondering if similar complaints were leveled against “Storyteller.” Enlighten me, Buffy vets.
- Off for the next two weeks for the Toronto film festival, then back on the 23rd with two Angels: “Salvage” and “Release.”