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Buffy Season 3: Anne; Dead Man’s Party; Faith, Hope and Trick

August 14, 2010

After Season 2’s climactic and heartbreaking finale, I had to spend some time away from Buffy. Admittedly, it was only about a week, which is nothing like my Doctor Who breaks, which sometimes spanned into months. But I dived back in because I know that Joss Whedon will pick up where he left off, telling a grand meta-narrative. Whereas Doctor Who producer Russell T. Davies was never terribly likely to re-visit his plotlines and characters, which made departing more bitter sweet. So, I queued up Netflix and forged ahead.

Anne

Because Season 2 ended so climatically, Season 3 still has a lot to wrap up. At the end of Season 2 Buffy has been kicked out of her house, expelled from school, and killed her boyfriend. She’s on a bus to nowhere, and things look grim. Whedon is not going to immediately disperse that feeling, as some other shows might, there is no dues ex machina to make everything automatically better for our characters, they too have soldier on. While Xander, Willow, and Oz are slaying what vampires they can (roughly 5 out of 10 on a good week, according to Willow), Buffy is going by Anne, waitressing in a bad part of LA, and trying to deal with the fact she can’t go home again. School starts, and Buffy does not magically reappear. From the very beginning we know then, that things are not going to be okay.

But, it’s not before long that Buffy encounters someone who recognizes her: a girl named Lily, who was known as Chantrelle in Season 2’s Lie to Me. She’s living the life of a drifter, scraping together food, shelter, and doting on her boyfriend. When he invariably goes missing, she turns to Buffy because Buffy knows to do “stuff.” Like, you know, kill vampires.

There are some refreshing scenes of Buffy doing the research and questioning on her own. But this is a different kind of Buffy, a no nonsense Buffy. When investigating a dodgy blood bank, Buffy immediately cops to breaking and entering, and when the nurse threatens to call the police, Buffy rips the phone of the wall. This not someone to be trifled with. She quickly abandons an undercover attempt to kick butt, and when sucked into a demon world, she seems to take a fair amount of joy in disrupting the nefarious deeds of demons, and getting back into the groove of fighting evil.

Admittedly, there are some problems. The Demon’s plot is never fully explored — people are toiling doing…what? They seem to work in one of the factories from an 80’s metal video that just makes sparks. Much of the action doesn’t serve too much of a purpose except to have Buffy look good, and throw some good action material in for the opening credits. There’s also some heavy handed “hopeless, you are nobody” identity crisis stuff that prompts Buffy to abandon Anne and embrace her own identity. I won’t deny, it was fun watching her say “Hi, I’m Buffy the Vampire Slayer” but it actual thematic buildup was a little hokey.

As Xander predicted early in the episode, Buffy comes back when she wants to be found, and we end with Joyce opening the door to find her daughter. The episode isn’t a bad start to the season, I like a lot of the Buffy action, and I like that Whedon spends some time dwelling on Buffy getting back into the mood, but at the same time, I’m impatient for the next chapter to start, whatever that may be. Also, I don’t think the Scooby Gang is as strong without Buffy around. They deal with staking some vampires, some missed connections (Oz didn’t finish school, Xander and Cordelia aren’t clicking back together) which is all very amusing, but I felt lacked real weight because we know what’s going to happen.

Dead Man’s Party

We pick right back up where we left off on Buffy, with her homecoming. The meaty part of this episodes is the emotional conflict coming to head during a Buffy coming back party. The whole monster part is a African Mask that allows some great lines from Buffy: “It’s angry at the room. It wants the room to suffer.” and an absolutely wonderful quote from Giles, mocking Joyce: “Do you like my mask? Isn’t it pretty? It raises the dead! Stupid Americans.”

Some Zombies show up, but what really threatens to tear our heroes apart is not dealing with their emotional conflicts: Everyone feels abandoned by Buffy at a very difficult point in their lives, where as Buffy carries a weight few can truly understand. Joyce has joined a book club, made a friend (conveniently turned into a monster and slain by Buffy), and the Scooby Gang has call signs, walky talkies, and a method for murdering vampires.  But Buffy’s return disturbs those coping mechanisms, and forces everyone to re-evaluate their feelings. Then zombies are coming up the hell right now, so we join forces, takes a lot of tension out of situation (at least the emotional tension). Everyone is pretty much on Buffy’s side by the end of the episode, but they have yet to re-enroll her in school, and as always, there are demons to fight. Things are different than before, but it’s episode three, which means time to establish the big bad.

Faith, Hope, and Trick

Now we’re back into the meta-narrative, which is confounding because at the end of the episode, I’m not quite sure who the Big Bad is. Each word in the title corresponds with a character, so  let’s examine:

Faith is a fellow slayer. Due to Buffy’s resurrection, there are now two slayers in the world. Where as Kendra was a nice guest star last season, she was killed off before the dual slayer dichotomy had anywhere to go. But the idea is still interesting, so we get to meet Faith, played by Eliza Dushku. She’s from Boston, she’s a wild girl (Wrestling Alligators! Naked!), she’s cute, she’s footloose and fancy free, she’s taking over Buffy’s life. Everyone immediately takes a shine to the live wire, but Buffy is immediately suspicious, and with some cause.

Hope is actually Scott Hope, a romantic interest for Buffy. But he’s not really framed in the story to be a recurring character, more like another diversion for Buffy from her Angel hangover. He’s alive, he’s cute, he’s witty, he’ll be around for a few episodes, but the writing (and plotting) never insinuates that he’ll be around for too long. Scott is a narrative device to confront Buffy’s feelings about Angel. She’s having dreams about him, she still feels guilty, and now she’s the only single one of her friends. Giles meanwhile is trying to figure out exactly what happened that night, so as to cast a spell of binding on Acathala to prevent him from returning. This is a bit of hokum as it turns out, and has everything to do with discovering the true nature of what happened.

Trick is Mr. Trick it seems, lieutenant to Kakistos, a vampire so old that he has cloven hands and feet. Where as Kakistos is all about revenge on Faith (hey, Buffy isn’t the only one with enemies!), Mr. Trick likes the death rate, he wants to set up shop. But Kakistos wants revenge and revenge is what he shall have, until a more battle ready Buffy helps Faith stave off attacks, revealing that Kakistos killed her family, killed her watcher, and is ready to kill her. Faith is a bit more scarred than Buffy, going totally nuts on vampire, beating him instead of slaying him, basically throwing Buffy to the wolves. We haven’t seen much more of Mr. Trick besides from letting Kakistos get the stake but I have a feeling he’ll crop back up.

I have a feeling about Faith, I think something bad is going to happen to her. She doesn’t have the same support group that Buffy has (which has been instrumental in keeping her sane, and successful), where as the other slayers are usually loners. That gets people killed, and I’m worried that Faith may have a bad future ahead of her, but it’s made clear that she’s in it for the long haul (or at least the season).

Overall I think this episode negotiates the meta narrative and the monster of the week requirements skillfully, while also rounding out the new relationships. I’m excited to see where we go from here.

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