Coming up in the next few weeks will be the following:
Remainder of DS9
A look at The Master, RTDs era of Who and the Doctor Who comics.
Buffy Season 8
I've recently become addicted to viewing Youtube fan videos. Montages of shows set to music. This is a relatively new area of fan creativity but I think in time these montages will come to take the place traditionally occupied by fan fiction.
Anyway at the end of this post I've included a few links to some of my personal favourites.
On the random thoughts front; I saw ITV's Clough documentary last night. Good stuff, I particularly liked the coverage given to his years at Forest. I think as time goes on Clough's achievements only increase in their magnitude and there has to be a case for him being the greatest manager the English game has seen.
Formula 1 is due to begin again this weekend. Happily the Beeb have decided to use Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" as the theme music, why ITV didn't I will never know. This season looks to be an important one as the field appears to be very open and it will be interesting to see how the teams hold up in terms of budgets this season (and the knock on effects for next). My main hope is that the season is a competative one, otherwise some of the more insane rule changes proposed may come into being. I find it difficult to undersand what Eccelstone/Mosley are trying to do, F1 has a limited audience and the proposed changes are unlikely to pull in that many more viewers, whilst alienating those of us who have followed the sport for years.
First up, as you would expect, Doctor Who ones.
This one is a Donna Noble tribute set to Coldpay's "The Scientist" and it has clearly been done with a great deal of attention: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dn17fsN4Nb4
Next up a perfect comination of the Beatles and Season 1 of the relaunch with shipper overtones for the 9th Doctor and Rose: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hJ9wAX-oNE
A Couple of Buffyverse ones: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozBILM1o_Ic&feature=related AND http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRAC5LjuYCU&feature=related
And finally, some X-Files ones. First a Ship-y Mulder and Scully one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=GB&hl=en-GB&v=ePtrqo39jFU
And we end on a high, this one is just so much fun: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWSRISUaf2s
Thursday, 26 March 2009
Saturday, 21 March 2009
Right I have come to the realisation that there are far too many good episodes of DS9 to be able to tackle seasons 4 to 7 in one long hit. So I am going to look at each of the remaining seasons in their entirety.
As I said in the post about seasons 1 to 3, DS9 can be split into two eras and season 4 is the point where DS9 changes from being an outer space western to being an outer space war story. It is also the point where Worf joins the station. More importantly the show has a change in the way it is presented. The direction of the episodes from here on is much more energetic and intense. It has an immediacy to it that the passive house style previously employed by modern Trek (that is to say the whole of TNG and the first 3 seasons of DS9).
For all that the show remained true to its ongoing storylines and character development, albeit that the show also started to become an effort in guerilla TV making as the writing crew continued to push the boundaries of the show whilst simultaneously transforming the show into a serial.
1) THE WAY OF THE WARRIOR. The first episode of season 4 and a relaunch for the show as well. The issues of Bajor and the Dominion take a back seat as the Klingon Empire goes to war against the Cardassian empire. This is the closest thing we have to DS9 movie, a balls to the wall action adventure. It is absolutely gripping and moves with a pace and energy previously unseen in DS9. Worf is introduced in an effective way and there are some epic battles (both in space and in hand to hand combat). There are also some fantastic moments of reflection (Quark and Garak for a starter). Flawless.
2) THE VISITOR. Another classic (and Hugo award nominee). A sad, sweet, story of Jake growing up without his father and how far Jake would go to get his father back. There's also fun to be had in seeing potential future versions of the regulars. This is the sort of story that can only be done in the genre or SF or Fantasy and as a result a demonstration both of how easily accessible SF can be, but also of the superiority of SF over other genres (SF can do any kind of story and still be SF, other genre's loose their integrity once the story goes beyond the boundaries of that genre).
3) HIPPOCRATIC OATH. Overrated at the time as it felt it was going to be more important to the Dominion arc than it really was. This is ultimately a story about Bashir and O Brien and the resiliency of their friendship. Not an essential episode, but worthy of an honourable mention.
4) INDISCRETION. A Kira and Dukat episode and another absolute winner for season 4. The discovery of Dukat's half Bajoran daughter would inform the rest of the series. Dukat is a fascinating character and even to the last episode of the series they never stopped developing him. Credit too is due to Marc Alimo's portrayal of the character. Here he maintains a very delicate balancing act, imbuing Dukat with a certain sympathy even as he is considering killing his daughter. Kira gets some great moments here too, forming an effective team with Dukat and acting as his conscience too.
5) REJOINED. The “lesbian kiss” episode. I still feel that this episode is ultimately a cop out. Not as much of a cop out as TNGs similar dealings with Trill culture, after all none of the characters even bats an eyelid at the prospect of a same sex relationship. But there was a deliberate analogy being drawn her (in the best tradition of Trek) and ultimately a homosexual relationship is still found to be taboo. So yes the episode is groundbreaking for Trek, but only because TNG was so incredibly timed and conservative. The story is not especially groundbreaking in terms of popular culture at all. On the other hand it does at least have some sensitivity and sincerity to it and does not fall into the trap of featuring a lesbian relationship for how many men it can turn on. Not essential, despite what the publicity at the time would have had you believe.
6) STARSHIP DOWN. A bottle show set on a stricken Defiant. One of the least important episodes this season, but one which I am rather fond of. In particular I like the discussions between Bashir and Dax which is something of a watershed moment for their friendship as they both reveal more about their true feelings for each other. I also love the scenes between Kira and the injured Sisko as Kira makes it quiet clear she views Sisko as The Emissary and the beginning of a proper friendship between them with an invite to a baseball game at the Holodeck. Also its worth pointing out that Sisko does change the shift rotation in line with Kira suggestions a little down the line!
7) LITTLE GREEN MEN. The mystery of Roswell is solved, it was the Quark, Rom and Nog all along! Frickin hilarious episode which brilliantly and affectionately lampoons any number of B-Movies, whilst also poking fun at the Roswell obsession of the mid 90s. Nothing I can say about this one, you just have to watch it and laugh your bloody head off. Absolutely essential.
8) THE SWORD OF KAHLESS. Another good Klingon episode as Dax, Worf and KOR! go in search of the Sword of Kahless (think Excalibur crossed with the Holy Grail). All the usual Klingon bombast here, but done really well. I particularly like the beginning scene with everyone knowing Kor's story is BS, but nobody calling him on it because he tells the story well. Not essential, but still an entertaining yarn.
9) OUR MAN BASHIR. Fantastic stuff. A witty pastiche of 60s spy stories with Bashir playing a Bond like figure and Garak along for the ride. A unique twist on the Holodeck goes wrong storyline as the Holodeck comes to the rescue here. This one is approximately 8 billion times better that A Fistful of Datas. Rom again starts to show his worth in helping to save the regulars too. Out and out fun.
10 & 11) HOME FRONT and PARADISE LOST. DS9s first proper visit to Earth as Sisko and Odo go to Earth to help build up defences against a dominion attack. This is a fantastic story and is criminally underrated. This is one that cuts to the very essence of DS9's (Ira Steven Behr's) take on the Roddenberry vision. A lot of hard questions are asked here as for the first time in years the paradise of Earth is put into direct threat and for the first time its not so easy to be a saint. This was a great story at the time it aired with the two very valid and believable view points being brought into conflict. For much of the world it was also a very real debate. In the UK for years we grappled with the question of how far our civil liberties could/should be curtailed to protect against the attacks of the IRA (see the ring of steel blockade in London). Post 9/11 these questions became much less abstract for the USA and have become all the more pressing in the UK too. Some fundamental questions are raised in this one: At what point do you destroy the thing you are seeking to protect, at what point are you doing the terrorists job for them, when can it ever be safe to relinquish control and safeguards once they have been imposed and are such controls ever effective against their intended targets. Aside from these points we also have the introduction of Sisko's father, brilliantly played by Brock Peters and a welcome update on Nog.
12) CROSSFIRE. Oh how pissed off I was by this episode at the time. I was a huge Odo-Kira shipper and I HATED the way this show put the relationship to bed. With later developments I have come to like it more, but the main reason to watch this is for the Quark/Odo scene as once again Quark shows that he knows Odo better than anyone else. I am still not overly keen on this one though. This one is a good example of the way that TV in the 90s failed to deal with “will they wont they” stories (see also the endless episodes where Niles “almost” tells Daphne how he feels, or the ridiculous dragging out of “Ross n Rachel” in season 2 of friends). At some point writers decided that Moonlighting proves that characters cease to be interesting once they get together. This is simply not the case, the problem is inadequate writing. In any case, endless “will they wont they” quickly goes from exciting to frustrating to tedious.
13) RETURN TO GRACE. An immediate bounce back. A great single plot line story as Dukat and Kira are once again forced into being a team as Dukat goes on a revenge mission to take out as many Klingon ships as he can. Really good action episode and Dukat v Kira is always a guaranteed winner. Again the show doesn't shy away from demonstrating that Kira was a terrorist and very good at what she did, but equally this Kira is far more measured than a season 1 Kira would've been in a similar story. Dukat's impassioned recruitment speech falling on deaf ears is a great moment too.
14) SONS OF MOGH. Distasteful and offensive episode revolving around Worf apparently been wrong to help his brother kill himself, but perfectly okay for Bashir to completely brain wipe him as an alternative.
15) BAR ASSOCIATION. By contrast this episode is great. A Ferengi episode up to a point, but really this one is more about Rom and Quark than Ferengi society. This is the beginning of the new Rom. Previously Rom's rebellions against Quark had been on behalf of others (his family) and this episode does keep to that trend with Rom forming a Union to get better pay and conditions for the staff of Quarks, but ultimately finally doing something for himself by becoming a station engineer. Lots to love about this one including BRUNT (FCA!), Bashir and O Brien ending up in a fight with Worf (after Worf crosses the picket line). Again this is the sort of story that no other Trek series could do. Similarly the Ferengi are the only Star Trek species that would allow for exploration of these sorts of issues (since the Federation/Humans live in some sort of communist utopia). You've also gotta love any US show which basically says “Yay Unions”.
16) ACCENSION. The point of no return for Sisko being the Emissary. Sisko gets to give up the role, only to realise that he needs and more importantly wants to take it back. A necessary episode in terms of putting an end to Sisko's discomfort with being the Emissary, but a purely functional episode too. I was more interested in the examination of the Bajoran caste system, which is one of the few times that the show dealt with the negative aspects of the Bajoran's faith.
17) RULES OF ENGAGEMENT. This one is much of a muchness really as Worf is put on trial for apparently destroying an innocent civilian ship in the middle of a battle. Its not that its a bad show, but there's nothing that good about it either. Eminently forgettable stuff. Plus if you are gonna do a courtroom drama in Trek then you have to have Picard in the show too.
18) HARD TIME. And so we reach this seasons “torture O Brien episode”. Somewhat overrated at the time in my opinion. Nevertheless a good episode as O Brien basically goes through 20 years of very hard time in an alien prison. Colm Meany makes this episode giving a superb performance. The scene with O Brien considering suicide is heartbreaking. Again we return to the “saint in paradise theme” as O Brien crucifies himself for killing his cellmate and Bashir points out that it took 20 years for him to break.
19) SHATTERED MIRROR. Another Mirror Universe episode. These are what they are and generally not to my taste.
20) THE MUSE. Some good ideas in this one, but even the writers admit the whole thing doesn't gel. This is what happens when you let the bosses wife pitch a story idea! Rene Auberjonois does his absolute best to raise the Lwaxana storyline into something good and deserves credit. Actually I am going to do that now. Rene was absolutely fantastic throughout the entire series run and always raised the level of the material he was playing. Unfortunately he was overlooked by the mainstream award bodies because he was in a SF show. The SF awards bodies were too in love with Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik to give Rene a look in too. But for me there is no better actor in a mask than Rene. Plus he went on to be great in Frasier and Boston Legal too.
21) FOR THE CAUSE. A total out and out classic. In a total subversion of expectations the smarmy Eddington turns out not to be Dominion as everyone was expecting, but to still be a traitor. Cassidy Yates is implicated, but happily they kept the Sisko/Yates relationship on. Both have good reasons for their actions and both are mature enough to realise that. Sisko makes it his mission to make Eddington pay.
22) TO THE DEATH. WEYOUN! is introduced and would be the shows primary Vorta from here on in. Jeffrey Coombs is outstanding playing Weyoun as a middle management salesman type figure (he is also versatile enough to play BRUNT (FCA!)). Anyway the story itself is nothing earth-shattering being about a co-operative hunt between the Federation and the Dominion to hunt down a rogue squadron of Jem'Hedar. But still its watchable enough and everyone should see Weyoun's first story at least once.
23) THE QUICKENING. Another winner as Bashir and Dax work to find a cure to a horrendous disease inflicted upon an innocent world by the Dominion. There's a nice examination assisted suicide and paliative care. Bashir gets humbled but eventually becomes the hero, albeit one who is still to be satisfied. The guest cast are uniformly brilliant. DS9 has done quest stories before now, but this is the first example of a genuine personal crusade. Bashir's supposed arrogance would become more understandable in light of later revelations about him too. I love this one.
24) BODY PARTS. Another Quark episode and as usual for Quark episodes its a strong show. Early in Season one Sisko makes the point that Human and Ferengi values are very different. Throughout the next 7 years however it would become clear that this does not mean that the Ferengi do not have values. Quark is a complex guy. Although he does adjust to the values of others, be they Human, Cardassian, Bajoran or Dominion, he always tries to live his life according to his own code of what he perceives a good Ferengi to be. In many ways his the most Ferengi Ferengi of them all as he life is not so much devoted to becoming wealthy as it is to making money and having fun doing it. This is why he stays on a frontier space station, rather than living on Ferenginar and why he would be lost if he ever did have his own moon. And even as he adapts to other cultures, he still does so with an eye towards making a profit and being a successful FERENGI within that culture. This episode puts that to the test with Quark finally being forced into breaking his own moral code to the delight of BRUNT (FCA!). The finale of the episode with the crew rallying around to support Quark is a lovely moment (and Quark charging for storage illustrates perfectly the point above). The episode has two particularly hilarious moments with BRUNT (FCA!) accusing Quark of being a philanthropist and Quark's jubilant reaction to learning he wont die (Quark: It means I get to sue doctor Orfax for malpractice!). Oh and there's some stuff with Major Kira getting pregnant with Chief O Brien's baby.
25) BROKEN LINK. Another relatively low key season finale acting to set up the next season. Odo falls ill and has to be taken to the Founder's home world to be cured and judged for his actions in the previous season finale. Best part of the episode is Garak's conversation with the female shap shifter and subsequent attempt to obliterate the homeworld of the founders. God Garak ruled the frickin earth. The cliffhanger is all sorts of awesome as Odo realises that the Klingon empire is being run by the Dominion and Gowron is a changeling.
Friday, 20 March 2009
Seasons 4 to 7 of Buffy mark a shift in style and tone from the high school years of seasons 1 to 3. There's the obvious factor of the characters becoming adults and some significant changes in the cast too. But more than that seasons 4 to 7 see the show becoming far more serialised than before. Of course seasons 2 and 3 had strong arcs, but the show generally ensured that the arc episodes could also stand on their own. Each story being self contained and building the arc in a modular way. From season 4 onwards the arc episodes become much less discrete and far more interdependent. This made the show harder to dip into, but equally enabled more complex arcs and character development. Seasons 4 to 7 also see the show experimenting with experimental, format bending episodes.
Season 4 is a strange beast. There are a lot of good things in it, but there is also a lot of stuff that doesn't work. What is strange is that you often find both factors in an episode. An a-plot that doesn't work with a brilliant b-plot or vice versa is a common feature of the season. The biggest problem is the arc itself. Although the main baddy, Adam, is a pretty cool idea; The Initiative simply doesn't work. The writers have claimed that this was a budgetary problem. I personally think that the problem is more fundamental. Buffy has the sensibility of a British show in so far as the characters are essentially enthusiastic amateurs. As with the Doctor or Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood or Poirot, the characters in Buffy are not undertaking a profession. As a potential ally the Initiative turns the Scoobies into glorified employees. The strange and fantastical simply becomes a part of their job. This is the sensibility of an American show (eg. Star Trek, CSI). Similarly as baddies they are far too mundane in their non-supernatural nature. It is telling that most of the best episodes of this season are those that rely on the shows previously established backstory or those that set up future stories.
1) Living Conditions. After the heights of season 3 the early episodes of season 4 tend to feel a little flat and lacking in intensity. However, on later reflection without the weight of earlier seasons, this episode is a little gem. Marti Noxon once again shows that when she is given the chance she can do comedy very well indeed. This one is a take on The Odd Couple with Buffy being driver made by hear Cher playing room-mate who she is convinced is a demon. The interplay between Buffy and the room-mate is a delight, but even better are the reactions of the rest of the Scoobies to Buffy's apparent overreactions. There's nothing earth-shattering about this episode, but you'll be hard pressed to find a more fun episode in this season.
2) Something Blue. On the face of it this one is a simple standalone comedy/farce episode with a pretty generic “magic causes the regulars to behave in an odd way” storyline that the show frankly did better before and after this episode. However, there is more too it than that. In terms of the episode itself, there is a certain ennui underneath all of the hi jinx which drives the episode. More than that though, this show is almost a pilot for season 6 with several ideas and storylines being seeded in this episodes. So we have Willow's first dalliance with vengeance, Buffy and Spike pairing up, Giles becoming ineffectual and surplus to requirements and so on.
3) Hush. An absolute classic of the first order. This one works as both a concentrated distillation of the show and what the show does and also as an experimental format breaking episode. To take the latter point first. This show is the one commonly referred to as “The Silent episode” with most of the show being without dialogue of any kind. The reason for this is that the baddies (The Gentleman) have stolen the voices of Sunnydale and are cutting out the hearts of the residents. Thus we have a really creepy set of bad guys from a fairytale being re-worked in classic Buffy fashion. Indeed if the episode wasn't silent, it would be a very typical standalone. On the other hand check out the pic and video below to get an idea of the true creepiness of this episode. Just to re-iterate an utter classic.
4 and 5) This Year's Girl & Who Are You. FAITH RETURNS! This is the only story in season 4 which has the emotional intensity of the key episodes of seasons 2 and 3. Eliza Dushku does a priceless SMG in the body swap scenes and SMG does a pretty good Dushku too. More than that this story sets Faith along the road to the Angel Franchise and her struggle for redemption.
6) Primeval. Whilst The Initiative arc was disappointing, the concluding episode is superb. An explosive, action packed, battle royal with the Scoobies coming back together (quiet literally) to defeat Adam. Triumphant stuff.
7) Restless. Primeval, whilst the arc finale, was not the season finale. In some ways this evidences that the Initiative Arc really wasn't up to scratch, there simply wasn't enough story in it to sustain an entire season. However, Restless provides the first and only season epilogue for Buffy. It is a wonderful experimental episode based around the linked dreams of the four core Scoobies. Full of surreal hints and revelations, this is an entire episode in the style of the moments of prophecy and revelations that Babylon 5 used to do so well. Think Buffy: The Vampire Slayer as told by Kosh!
Season 5 is an emphatic return to the form and intensity of season 2 and 3. The overall quality of the show was probably never higher than here. That being said there are obviously fewer moments of surprise and revelation than was the case with seasons 2 and 3. The arc here is much stronger than season 4 and features a much better big bad too.
1) Buffy v Dracula. The season premier and the first to be written by someone other than Joss Whedon (Marti Noxon wrote this). I was really worried about this one before it aired because I thought it would be nothing more than a gimmick. Whilst the episode is a gimmick, it is also very clever and very witty. In some senses it is a throwback to the first season in the way it reworks a bunch of tired clichés into something fresh and modern. Its also the best season opener since the pilot episode eschewing the angst of seasons 2 to 4 in favour of the fun subversion of the pilot. Spike's attitude to Dracula is also a complete hoot. There's also an intriguing sort of cliffhanger.
2) Real Me. Audacious stuff. This is the episode that introduces Buffy's kid sister, Dawn. Now this may not seem like a big deal, but it is. The reason for this is that the show had already established that Buffy was an only child both in terms of it being explicitly stated and also in terms of Buffy not living with or mentioning a sister. Thus is was downright peculiar for Buffy to have a sister. Even more peculiar was the fact that Buffy acts as though she ALWAYS had a sister and that they had ALWAYS lived together and the fact that all the other characters act that way too. This therefore contradicts everything the viewer knows about the show and indeed every previous episode of the show. You expect that this is all going to be revealed to be a spell and that Dawn is the episode's baddy. But at the end of the episode this isn't the case. She is still Buffy's Kid sister and always has been. This would remain the case for several episodes before the mystery and the apparent contradiction in continuity is resolved.
3) The Replacement. A doppelgänger episode and not the first that Buffy has done. But this is also important to the character of Xander, effectively ending the journey that he began in Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered. By the end of this show Xander has the girl, the house and the job, Today he is a Man! Also we finally get to see him do the Snoopy Dance.
No Place Like Home. In which we finally learn the truth about Dawn and in which the seasons big bad is introduced. I particularly like the ritual sequence in this one with the sense of heightened reality that the direction conveys.
4) Fool for Love. Buffy gets to hear the story of how Spike killed two slayers and we learn why Slayers tend to die young. It may not sound like much. But its a great story.
5) Triangle. A great little standalone dealing with the relationship between Xander, Anya and Willow. As with a lot of Buffy stories, it is the funny ones where you often learn the most about the characters and this is the one that deals with and largely resolves the tension between Anya and Willow. It also has Olaf the Troll being awesome in it too.
6) Blood Ties. In which Dawn learns the truth about herself and the scene is set for the season finale.
7) The Body. In which a major character dies. Another format breaker; this episode deals with the characters coping with death and their grief. Not quiet as good as the mainstream critics would have it be, but still an excellent episode.
8) Tough Love. An intense and busy episode setting up the season finale and laying some groundwork for season 6 too. Willow starts her journey to the dark side, The big bad finds what she has been looking for and Buffy gives up her education. Willow and the Big Bad have an awesome confrontation too.
9) The Gift. The season finale, possible the best one the show ever did. The Buffy equivalent of Doctor Who's Logopolis. A faultless episode full of moments of quiet sadness and epic excitement. This might have been the last episode of the show ever and if it had been the show would've ended on a beautiful high. Buffy defeats the big bad in a BRUTAL fight before sacrificing herself to save the world. Giles commits a murder, Xander and Anya get engaged. Spike gets some validation from Buffy. Tara is restored and Willow's power continues to grow. The opening montage of all the previous stories is great, the finale montage and voice-over is even better. An episode to treasure.
Ah Season six! The very mention of which is enough to start flame wars across the internet. Easily the most controversial season of Buffy. The main criticisms being that it lacks a proper big bad, that it is depressing and soapy, that it lacks direction, that too many of the stories revolve around the mundane problems of day to day life, that it doesn't have enough fantasy elements and that those elements it does have do not work, finally that the characters are not true to themselves. There's also the little matter of Tara's death and the reaction that provoked.
Season six defenders will in turn claim that the season doesn't need a big bad, that Joss Whedon's stance that “life is the big bad” is valid. They will claim that the depressing stories and lack of fantasy elements are realistic and necessary to adequately deal with the events of season five. They claim that the character development is truthful in the context of the events of season five and six. They tend not to address the issue of whether it was right to kill off Tara!
In truth both sides are correct up to a point and this is why the battle over season 6 will always rage. For my part I enjoyed season 6 but it was a very different beast to the early shows. Indeed it is much more like a season of Angel than of Buffy. There are a lot of good ideas in terms of the overall arc and individual episodes which aren't executed as well as they could be. There isn't enough comedy, but much of the darkness is warranted. In particular Buffy's handling of her death is much more preferable to the Thai Chi sweeping under the carpet resolution that Season 3 offers for Angel. Many of the character developments are reasonable and can be justified, but by the same token the writers often fail to make the motivations behind those developments clear enough.
Similarly the arc of life and our own mistakes and insecurities being the big bad is a valid choice (particularly since there was no way to further up the ante from season 5s big bad). The Angel franchise has proved this and is effectively built on the same premise. But the execution didn't work as well as it should have done thereby leaving the arc feeling inconsequential and insubstantial. This problem was further exacerbated by the lack of standalone episodes.
As with season 4 there are many cases of the good being intertwined with the bad in the same episode. But whereas in season 4 the good overshadowed the bad, in season 6 the bad tended to overshadow the good. If the exact same bad stuff had been concentrated into 3 or 4 episodes (as with seasons 2 and 3) then season 6 would almost certainly have been much stronger and more popular.
My opinion is that this probably does rank as the shows worst season. But this is like saying With The Beatles is the worst Beatles album. Fundamentally, the worst season of Buffy is still head and shoulders over most other TV shows. I also find that it is a valid and interesting experiment in pushing the boundaries of the show; even if it is ultimately a flawed experiment.
1 & 2) Bargaining (Part 1 and 2). In which Buffy is resurrected. This was a great season opener to be fair. Lots of nice little moments and more action packed that your standard Buffy premier. Willow continues to pave her way to the dark side with her own good intentions. Giles takes his first steps towards his estrangement from the Scoobies and Xander begins to get cold feet.
3) Once More With Feeling. Generally known as the Musical episode. I was dreading this one. With the exception of The Jungle Book I generally loathe musicals as I struggle to get past the basic conceit of the genre. Once More With Feeling became the second honourable exception. It is just as brilliant as everyone says. The songs are all great, the jokes are excellent, there is a good reason why everyone is singing and the conceit is taken to logical and ludicrous extremes (It Got The Mustard Out, the Parking ticket song, the “backup” and so on). It is also the only episode to be genuinely widescreen (as opposed to the secondary widescreen versions of all the other post season 3 episodes). The songs also work in isolation on the Buffy soundtrack album, but they work even better on the show in the context of over 5 years of history between the characters.
4) Tabula Rasa. Another example of Buffy taking a clichéd idea (amnesia) and reviving it. The jokes in this one come thick and fast and are glorious. Unlike other episodes we end proceedings on a distinct downer as Giles leaves and Tara and Willow separate. This is the point where the show started to wobble. Giles leaving doesn't work in the way that it should, at this point in the show there is more reason for him to stay than to go. This is arguable in illustration of the seasons theme (life can suck and people make stupid mistakes) but when everyone and the world knew that Giles was leaving because Tony Head wanted to spend more time in the UK as a condition for staying on, this argument was not convincing. Again the idea would probably have worked if carried out in Bargaining (ie Giles leaves and for some plot mcguffin reason is unable to go back to the USA after Buffy is resurrected). Alternatively if a few more episodes had gone into establishing his reasons for going, then the storyline would've worked out better.
5) Entropy. A big gap here in which not a huge amount happens in terms of plot, arc or character development. The main thing is the preceding episode in which Xander gilts Anya. It is however one of the weakest Buffy episodes and as a result is probably the most important episode not to make the list. Anyway, this one deals with Anya having gone back to being a vengeance demon and her attempts to get back at Xander. This she eventually does in an unexpected way. Willow and Tara get back together too and it looks like things might be starting to look up.
6) Seeing Red. Almost certainly the most controversial episode the show ever did (at least amongst the fanbase. Season 3's Earshot may be the most controversial in terms of the mainstream). Starting with the light stuff, a fun caper story. On the other hand its massively overshadowed by the Spike/Buffy attempted rape and the murder of Tara. I'm not gonna address the Spike/Buffy thing here. Its worthy of a post to itself, all I will say is that I think there is a crucial point that has been largely overlooked in debates and which does not put Spike in a good light. I do want to comment on the death of Tara though. This was probably one bit of angst too far for the show. I can see why the writers did it. Tara was not the most interesting character and she was unlikely to develop any further. They had been planning to kill her off and the original intention was actually to do it earlier in the season. I don't personally think there was any intention to make or invalidate homophobia. However, I still think it was a mistake. As already stated it was too much darkness for one season. More to the point I think the writers forgot the lesson of their own show (specifically season 5's Family) in that it didn't matter that Tara wasn't the most interesting character. We liked her, she was a character who brought out the best in the other characters and added warmth to the show in the same way that Xander adds glib humour. It wasn't necessary for her to be interesting or to develop because she was fine the way she was.
7) Villains. In which Willow gives new meaning to the Dark Side of the force. Nasty, Nasty, episode. Willow goes out for vengeance in a MAJOR way and becomes the end of season big bad in the process of getting it. Features probably the most gruesome death scene that the series ever did.
8) Grave. The only season finale not written by Joss Whedon and clearly the weakest season finale. Again there is a problem with motivation here. Its simply not made clear enough how much of Willow's actions are her controlling black magic, or black magic controlling her. As such Willows decision to destroy the world and her ultimate decision not to do so are both somewhat unconvincing. Whilst I have my own personal way of reconciling both decisions so that they are consistent and reasonable in light of the events of the season; there is nothing to confirm (or contradict) this theory on screen. As such the resolution of the storyline and Willows return from the dark side is inevitably muddled.
Not so much a return to form as a lap of honour for the series. There's little out and out experimentation here as the show goes back to the style and tone of season 2 and 3 for the most part. This is very much like a greatest hits package. No more accurately it is like when a long running band returns to the sounds and approach of the first albums after a some experimental ones. As such it can be said that much of season 7 is derivative. On the other hand this hardly matters when the episodes are this good. There's nothing flashy about a chip butty, but who can resist a good one!
The other criticisms of this season are that the events of season 6 are swept under the carpet, that there is too much mucking about with the potential slayers and that the characters still sometimes act according to the necessities of the story arc rather than in a way that is truthful. As regards season 6, there is some truth in this. It is arguable that Willow is let of really lightly for her actions. On the other hand this is consistent with the approach taken to Faith. Similarly Willows eventual ability to return to using magic could've been clarified (although I don't find it particularly inconsistent). It is also worth pointing out that a large chunk of the fanbase was crying out for season 6 to be disregarded as far as possible anyway. Similarly there was a lot of the fanbase wanting stories about the potentials ever since Kendra was introduced, I was not one of those voices and consequently feel that there was too much stuff with the potentials.
These quibbles aside, this season is a heck of a lot of fun which was needed after the general angst of seasons 5 and 6. Whilst the nature of a final series is such that there tend to be fewer essential episodes, there are a very large number of very good episodes which don't get a mention below.
1) Lessons. The season premier and a return to the setting of Sunnydale High. Oodles of fun to be had here and a really cool scene at the end featuring all the previous seasons big bads.
2) Selfless. The definitive word on Anya as we learn huge amounts about her pre-Buffy life. This includes such matters as Olaf the troll, her fear of bunnies, her capitalism, her friendship with Halfreck, her propensity towards vengeance. Oh and we what amounts to a bonus track/deleted scene from Once More With Feeling. Lots of fun, but a lot of poignancy too.
3) Him. An example of season seven's derivative nature as this is almost exactly the same idea as bewitched bothered and bewildered (to the point where Xander says as much). But its done really well and is very funny. It also does have a new take on the idea because its done from the perspective of those under the love spell, rather than the person who is the object of the spell.
4) Conversations With Dead People. The only real format breaker in the season. A show comprising of four vignettes with characters talking to dead characters (and sponsored by Ronseal!). A still point of reflection of what has happened and what is yet to occurred and a chance for the big bad to play some head games. Its a shame that the vamp in the Buffy vignette was dusted, because he could have easily been an anti-Giles of sorts.
5) Get It Done. An important arc episode as Buffy gets a vision of what the big bad has in store for her and learns about the creation of the first slayer (thus tying up a thread set loose in Restless).
6) Lies My Parents Told Me. This episode does for Spike what Selfless does for Anya. It finally joins the dots between then William the fey “bloody awful poet and the Punky Sid Vicious persona of Spike. These figures would ultimately dovetail together in the final episode of Angel (Not Fade Away).
7) Dirty Girls. Faith returns. Caleb is introduced and Xander looses and eye in a bloody big fight.
8) Chosen. Here endeth the series. One of the shows best episodes and a fitting finale for one of the best shows ever made. Some live, some die, but ultimately the whole thing is extraordinarily uplifting and epic. Spike gets a grand send off, Angel returns, Sunnydale is destroyed (but in a Hooray “Schools out for ever” kind of way) and Buffy has a new army to lead. I saw this within 2 days of the final Lord of the Rings film and I preferred and still prefer this.
Wednesday, 18 March 2009
DS9 is by far and away the greatest of the Trek shows and that includes the classic series. The main reasons for this are firstly its brilliant characters and secondly its epic scope. Before looking at the essential episodes of the series itself, some context is important.
The original series was of course seminal and very little needs to be said about it. But fundamentally many of the episodes are dated now, some badly. In addition to this most of the best episodes come from the first season. Indeed the classic series owes as much to the films as the original TV run in terms of public consciousness. It is also fair to say that the classic series was a show about the Kirk/Spock/McCoy triumvirate. I think even the most casual fan of the classic series could talk in depth about each of those characters and the way they relate to each other. The same cannot be said for the likes of Scotty, Sulu, Uhura and Chekov. Indeed I can think of little to say about any of them and equally know very little about who those characters really are. This was not a problem though because everything about the classic series was, at the time, revolutionary for TV Sci-Fi (and TV in general) and the show and the characters are rightfully iconic as a result.
The Next Generation was successful in becoming a variation on a theme of the classic show. But again, aside from Picard, Worf and Data, there is very little to be said about the other characters. As with the classic series there are a good number of excellent, literate, episodes.
The classic series and the Next Generation were about exploration. The drama came from what the characters found and how they reacted to those findings. The Next Generation in particular relied on this; Roddenberry's vision of the future being such that it excluded the notion of internal conflict between the crew in all but exceptional cases. Similarly the exploration based format meant that the characters rarely deal with the consequences of the choices and actions in any given episode. Whilst the style and tones of the episodes are very different, the characters in Encounter at Far Point are hardly any different from those in All Good Things. Riker and Troi started and ended the show as an unresolved question mark, ditto Picard and Crusher. Similarly I am not sure that I could tell you anything more about Geordi after All Good Things that I could not already have told you by the end of Encounter at Far Point.
To some extent this is of course unimportant. The Next Generation characters achieved a status comparable to the classic series characters in the USA. The shows is a successful SF anthology series and there is nothing actually wrong with that but equally there is nothing particularly ambitious about it either.
DS9 was always going to be a different animal. The show was never going to be about exploration, simply because it initially ran in tandem with the last two years of The Next Generation and later in tandem with Voyagers earlier years. Thus the show would either have been about a space station or a colony world. The producers realised a colony show would be too expensive and thus the space station idea was the remaining option. This naturally meant that the show had to be about something other than exploration and thus the characters of the show become the driving force. DS9 had the best range of characters in the entire Star Trek franchise. Indeed very few TV shows at all can lay claim to a better assortment of characters. Aside from the core crew (Captain Sisko, Major Kira, Lt. Dax, Lt. Bashir, Constable Odo, Quark and Chief O Brien in the initial series) the show also had more than 20 recurring characters. Almost all of whom were multi-faceted and constantly growing and evolving. I could say more about some of the shows guest star characters than I could about a Sulu or a Troi. Similarly the core crew were all changed as a result of the experiences through the show.
In some ways the show fell victim to its own publicity. Too much emphasis was placed on the fact that it was set on a station and darker and grittier than TNG. This lead to a perceptions that the show was static and miserable. In reality the show has more humour than any other Trek show and there was plenty of travel too. But there was also the additional factor of seeing the crew build lives for themselves and deal with the consequences of their actions.
The show also fell victim to the misconceptions of the general Sci-Fi fanbase too. Firstly the ongoing Babylon 5 – DS9 feud which I am not even going to bother to address here (being a fan of both) and secondly those in the Trek fanbase who felt the show was a betrayal of Roddenberry's vision for the future.
Lately it seems the tide is turning, at least in the UK, with DS9 recently turning up in a list of the best 50 shows ever and a wholesale re-evaluation of the show in UK genre magazines around the time of seasons 5 and 6.
As with Buffy the show can be neatly split into two eras and coincidentally the split in DS9 is also between seasons 1-3 and seasons 4-7. With Buffy this occurred because of a conceptual change in the show. With DS9 it essentially reflects the Michael Piller era of the show and the Ira Steven Behr era of the show. It also reflects a shift in tone as everything in season 4 onwards is filmed with more energy and flair to it than the more reflective style of seasons 1 to 3.
1) Emissary. The pilot episode of the show introducing the core cast and several important recurring characters (in particular that bastard Dukat). Easily the best Trek pilot show. Each of the characters gets a chance to shine and they are all true to themselves in as much as none of them require a radical reworking by the writers (contrast with Troi, Riker and Spock). The political backdrop for show is established and whilst it lacks the pace of a modern day pilot, it does not drag either. It is also rich in ideas, some of which would go continue to fuel the series to its very end. It also sets the tone for the rest of the season with the Federation crew and the Bajoran nationals beginning the process of learning about each other and working together on the frontier. Quark and Odo begin a glorious seven year double act that is the equal of Bones and Spock. Sisko and Dax re-acquaint themselves with each other (sidebar: Dax totally proves the notion a female Doctor Who being able to work fine), we see the first proper family relationship on Trek (Sisko and Jake) the beginnings of DS9 being the first trek to properly explore faith and religion. The beginning of Sisko v Dukat (Think Kirk v Kahn only over 7 years). DS9 would go onto better this epsiode numerous times, but by the same token all of those episodes were built on the stong and wonderful foundations of this one.
2) The Nagus. OK, so a little backstory is required here. Quark is a Ferengi. The Ferengi were intrroduced on The Next Generation and were intended to be that shows equivalent of the Klingons. To say that they did not work, would be an understatement. They were unintentionally hilarious and almost entirely non-threatening (or in the words of Kira “Greedy, mysoginistic, little trolls”). However, the idea or a race motivated purely by greed/profit was a good one, particularly when played against the communist utopia of the Federation. Thus the Ferengi were rehabilitated into a satirical swipe at modern day humanity. Of all the races in Star Trek they are the ones most like modern day humanity. Consequentially the Ferengi are also the funniest species in star trek and The Nagus is the beginning of a DS9 tradition of using the Ferengi as the basis for comedy episodes.
The Nagus himself (brilliantly played by Wallace Shawn) is the elderly Godfather figure of the Ferengi race, the richest of the rich. This episode deals with his plan to appoint a successor, Quarks appointment as his successor and the ensuing attempts on Quarks life.
The Ferengi episodes tend to divide the fanbase. There are those that adore them and then there are those who are wrong. Either way this episode must be watched, if only to hear Wallace Shawn's laughing, his “And You failed! MISERABLY!” and his “Its like talking to a Klingon!”.
3) Duet. Simply put an astonishingly good episode. Kira deals with a Cardassian who arrives on the station and is revealed to be a suspected war criminal responsible for genocidal acts against Kira's peaple (the Bajorans). Harris Yulin is superb as Aamin Marritza, the suspect, being utterly believable with each twist and turn in the plot until the ultimate truth is revealed. Nana Visitor is only a step behind as Kira. The script sings and the whole thing is so simply you could put it on the stage tomorrow. Not only one of the best episodes of Trek, not merely one of the best episodes of Sci-Fi ever made, but one of the most electrify episodes of television ever made. You owe it to yourself to watch this one.
4) In the Hands of the Prophets. Another great episode and the finale of season 1. Not in the league of Duet, but then very few episodes of any TV show are. This one brings the relationship between the Federation and the Bajorans into the fore and also deals with the always interesting “faith” v “science” argument. More to the point it also introduces Vedek Winn, one of the series main antagonists. Louise Fletcher is brilliant in the part making the character easily and immensely HATEABLE whilst still maintaining a certain sympathy too. Although the episode features a rather large explosion, it is not explosive in the way that TNG finales tended to be. Rather it is a neat little epilogue to the season of stories that preceded it, a point of reflection laying the groundwork for the following season.
Honourable Mentions: Captive Pursuit (A solid O Brien episode), Dax, Vortex (a good Odo episode which hints at the nature of his people), The Foresaken (another good Odo episode).
1) Necessary Evil. DS9 goes first person film noir. A Kira/Odo/Dukat story told by Odo and showing the station under Cardassian rule, Odo's appointment as security officer and Kira and Odo's first meeting. An excellent moody detective story. There are also the first hints of the direction of Rom's character (again compare the development of Rom over 7 years with Troi or Geordi in TBG).
2) Whispers. Another great little O Brien episode laced with paranoia and, as with Necessary Evil, very much a first person story. The twist at the end is fantastic.
3) Profit and Loss. A love story for Quark and a very good one at that. Garak continues to surprise and delight in the one too. In terms of the overall arc the story of the dissident Cardassians would continue to evolve throughout the series with this show being the real starting point of that process.
4) Blood Oath. KLINGONS! Kang! Kor! and Koloth! A great action episode with real heart to it as well. This episode does as much to define the character of Dax as any other with her tom boy, rouge, quality coming to the fore for the first time (beyond her affection for the Ferengi). There always something good about a story of some old legends saddling up for one final time. That the legends in this case are genuine Star Trek legends helps the story even more.
5) and 6) The Maquis Parts 1 and 2. This one just makes the cut. The twist at the end of episode 1 is a little to obvious, but the rest of the story is excellent. Classic DS9 with shades of grey abounding. The Maquis would go on to be relevant to the series until season 6 (not to mention the Voyager show). In many ways its also the first time when Ira Steven Behr's take on trek becomes obvious with Sisko's “saints in paradise” speech about the nature of the utopian Federation. In many ways the entire run of DS9 is about that very issue as DS9 is very much about what the saints do when they are taken out of paradise (and for the most part I think they do themselves proud!). This story also encapsulates much of what DS9 was about in terms of the characters having to make difficult choices and deal with the consequences of those choices. Indeed the characters here are actually dealing with the consequences of the choices made in a TNG episode and its notable that DS9 was much better equipped to deal with following up a TNG episode that TNG would have been.
7) The Wire. A superb Garak/Bashir episode about DS9's “plain, simple tailor”. Again this is a classic example of DS9 doing a character story which in turn opens up a number of ongoing storylines. In this case the Obsidian Order become very relevant to the future of DS9. But as with Duet this is really about the relationship between two characters and the secrets of the past.
8) Tribunal. Another “torture O Brien” episode, this time literally as O Brien is forced to go on holiday with his wife Keiko! Ithangyow! Actually that is the start of the episode. What is is actually about it O Brien and Keiko being captured by the Cardassians and O Brien being put on trial. The Cardassians have a novel legal system with ALL prisoners being found guilty and sentenced prior to trial. Thus the trial is the very definition of a show trial. Colm Meaney is, as ever, superb and Avery Brooks direction is striking.
9) The Jem'Hadar. A really important episode this one and a good one too. This is effectively a prologue for season 3 as the show begins the Dominion Arc. The Dominion would go on to become the series main baddies and can be seen as being the Anti-Federation of the Gamma Quadrant. Rather than being a single race, they are a union of races under the control of The Founders. In general the Founders themselves are not seen and are instead represented by other races created or genetically modified by the Founders. This episodes introduces The Jem'Hadar and The Vorta. The former are The Dominion's army/enforcement species, the latter are the diplomats. Both species consider The Founders to be Gods (compare/contrast the Bajorans and the Prophets) and both species work together in carrot and stick fashion to recruit new species into The Dominion. To put it simply the Jem'Hadar will fuck you up big time as a warm up before destroying some Klingons for the main course. This episode gets most of this backstory across in an entertaining and explosive way as Starfleet has its shit comprehensively fucked up in a way not seen since The Best of Both Worlds.
Honourable Mentions: The Homecoming, The Circle and The Seige (3 part story opening season 2). Cardassians. Sanctuary, Crossover. The Collaborator.
1 & 2) The Search Parts 1 and 2. Ladies and Gentleman I introduce to you: THE DEFIANT! Having had a bunch of fives Starfleet responds by giving Sisko the coolest Starship in the franchise (actually its a battleship). That would be reason enough to watch this one, but there is lots more on offer. The Founders are revealed for one in a very good little twist on a long running storyline set up in the pilot episode. Federation ethics are put under the spotlight as a policy of appeasement is implemented on DS9 (although there is a twist on this as well) and Sisko decides for the first time that the price of peace is too high.
3) Defiant. A terrific action episode with tons of good character interplay too (Kira and Thomas Riker, Sisko and Dukat once again being forced to work as an effective team) a secret is also revealed which would pay off later in the season.
4) Life Support. Another one that just gets onto the list. The B-Plot her about Jake and Nog really doesn't belong in the episode at all. But the A-Plot is great and important with loads of good Kira and Kai Winn stuff and Bariel sacrificing himself for the good of his people.
5 & 6) Improbable Cause and The Die is cast (parts 1 and 2). The high point of season 3 as The Founders score a significant win against two Alpha Quadrant powers. Garak renews his allegiance to the Obsidian Order, Odo reveals a secret to Garak (under torture!). There is a real and perceptible shift occurring here with the series taking its biggest single step from being a “story of the week” franchise to a serial and from DS9 being a modern day western to being a modern day war story.
7) Explorers. A quiet, calming story to recover from the previous double whammy. This is one that gained significance in later years. Essentially this is a standalone about Sisko deciding to try to build his own solar powered space craft to emulate the early Bajorans. However, looking back a lot was set up here. Sisko's relationship with Kassidy Yates, Sisko's growing acceptance of being The Emissary and his growing empathy with the Bajorans, their culture and history. Jake taking another step into adulthood. Also the interior of the ship is really, really cool!
8) Family Business. A Ferengi episode. More specifically and more importantly a Quark and Rom episode. The plot ostensibly concerns the actions of Quark's mother (she wears clothes and earns profit, both forbidden in Ferengi culture) and there is certainly some fun to be had in the satirical swipes at 20th Century western culture. But in reality the story is much more about the family relationships and estrangements. Rom gets his first chance to shine in a major way in standing up to Quark. Similarly Quark is once again shown to be a complex figure and not just comic relief.
Honourable Mentions: The House of Quark. Equilibrium. Second Skin. Fascination. Past Tense (parts 1 and 2). Shakar. Facets. The Adversary (season 3 finale).
Sunday, 8 March 2009
Much has been written about Buffy The Vampire Slayer over the years and I doubt that I can find anything too new or original to say about the show. What I can do is to give my own personal overview of the show and why it is so brilliant. Buffy has never been short of critical praise, but that praise has always been somewhat guarded. There's a view that the show is a great show disguised as a mutant comic book, teen drama hybrid. This is almost correct. But the truth is that the show is actually a mutant comic book, teen drama hybrid that also happens to be one of the greatest TV shows ever made.
Much of this is due to Joss Whedon and the strength of his writing and the writing team he assembled to produce the show. The show itself has it all: great iconic characters, heart, imagination, wit, depth, a genuine mythos of its own and a willingness to subvert audience expectations at every turn. This ethos extends to the very title of the show; Whedon insisted on the faintly ridiculous title to be deliberately obtuse. The idea being that those who could not appreciate the deliberate joke of the title would exclude themselves from the joy of the show.
Broadly speaking the show can be split into two eras. Seasons one to three and seasons four to seven. The first era relates to Buffy's High School Years, the second deals with her life after High School. This post will deal with the first three seasons, I'll deal with seasons 4 to 7 some other time.
I could write pages about the show, but the real way for people to appreciate it is to watch it. As the title of this post suggests, what follows is a brief guide to the essential episodes of Buffy. Those stories that should be viewed because of their sheer quality and/or importance to the overall storylines of the show. That is not to say that the other episodes are dispensable or poor and it should be noted that a number of excellent and/or important episodes did not make the cut. Similarly even the most pedestrian episodes provide a context for the greater episodes and as such it should be realised that watching the whole series in order is the best way to get the most enjoyment and a full appreciation of those episodes that have made the cut. Spoilers are ahead, where possible I've tried to be non-specific though.
The first season is a truncated run of 12 episodes. The series was commissioned as a mid-season replacement for a failed show. Much of the season is concerned with establishing the characters and the overall tone of the show. What is impressive though is how the series hits the ground running with an exceptionally good pilot story and two genuinely classic episodes. What is also notable is how the feel of the show is consistent with later seasons. Certainly it lacks the depth and maturity of later years, but it does feel consistent with the other 6 seasons. Compare this with the feel of, for example, the development of Star Trek: The Next Generation or a more mainstream show like Seinfeld.
1) Welcome to the Hellmouth & The Harvest. This is where it all began, the very first story. It is essentially a two part pilot episode establishing the core characters (Buffy, Giles, Willow, Xander) for the entire 7 year run and the “Big Bad” for the season (The Master a vampire many centuries in age). Often you a pilot episode is a necessary evil for getting into a series, but this is a genuinely entertaining piece of TV in its own right.
2) Angel. Mid way through the series we get the first genuinely classic Buffy episode. I followed Buffy right from day one and had enjoyed it a lot. But up until this point I thought that it was a reasonable clever a witty bit of telefantasy which would soon run its course. I thought it was formulaic show which would quickly run out of ideas, but which at least had a certain Doctor Who like vibe to it. This is the episode that changed all of that. The revelation at the core of the episode turns the show on its head and immediately makes you realise that the writers were going to take risks and weren't going to run a formula into the ground. It also marks the beginning of the poetic Buffy/Angel relationship. Again, up until this point I thought that the show was simply going to string out the “will they wont the” storyline to which US dramas seem to be addicted. That wasn't to be the case, even more surprising was the fact that the Buffy/Angel relationship was always more interesting when they were together than when they were apart.
3) Prophecy Girl. Buffy's first season finale and a belter of an episode it is too. It is a measure of how brilliant the series became that this episode is something of a forgotten classic. Sarah Michelle Gellar gives an astonishingly good performance as the young Buffy facing up to the knowledge of her impending death and Anthony Stewart Head is similarly awesome as Giles struggling with his duties as a watcher and his paternal feelings towards Buffy. Again the show surprises by killing off the Big Bad leaving a big old question mark over what the future direction of the show.
Honourable Mentions: Nightmares.
Season 2 is the point where Buffy changes from a cool and fresh bit of telefantasy to one of the best TV shows ever made. This is a season of revelations and whilst season one's Angel was a clear indication that the show would confound expectations; season 2 almost confounds any non-expectations the audience may have had. Season 1 had a clear focus on the characters of the Scooby Gang (that is to say Buffy, Giles, Willow, Xander and to a lesser extent Cordelia). Season 2 would take this to another level with constant exploration of the Scoobies. But this was also complimented by a stronger group of adversaries, all of whom also had strong characters (as opposed to the relatively functional bad guy of Season 1's Master).
1) School Hard. A watershed moment for the series as Spike and Dru hit the show becoming 2/3rds of the Big Bad. This is a classic case of the show delving into the characters of the bad guys as well as the Scoobies. Spike in particular makes an immediate impression and his relationship with Drusilla is immediately believable. Spike is also irreverent eschewing the stereotypical vampire traits in favour of pop culture, anarchy and punch ups! The writers have said that they initially saw Spike and Dru as being the Sid and Nancy of the show and this is as good a comparison as any. What is important is that the Baddies are as cool as the Scoobies, a feature lacking in season 1 but a feature which would become a hallmark of the show from this point onwards. This episode sees the seeds laid for the story arc of the following season, albeit in a fairly oblique way.
2) The Dark Age. This show is significant and surprising for the way in which it turns your expectations of one of the Scoobies on your head as their somewhat dubious past is dealt with. Just as School Hard was so important for giving us Multi-faceted villains, so The Dark Age starts the process of showing us the darker side/histories of the Scoobies.
3 & 4) What's My Line (part 1& 2). This one just sneaks in because of its importance to season 2. Once again this is an episode dealing with characters. It is also important for introducing the notion of a second slayer and the start of a new relationship between the Scoobies (which is both unlikely yet unsurprising if you were paying attention through the earlier episodes). It also features a baddy who is literally made of bugs which has got to be worth and hour and a half of anybody's time.
5 & 6) Surprise (part 1) & Innocence (part 2). Made of Awesome. No scratch that, made of totally fucking awesome. Another character gets a surprising past, Willow and Oz get closer, Buffy and Angel consummate their relationship and a regular character is revealed to be the last third of the seasons big bad trio. This was the point of no return. Up until this point the series could have gone into a safe little rut, but after this NOTHING would ever be the same. There effect of the character developments on the plot was such that there was no way to go back to monster of the week format. This is the show where the younger Scoobies take their first steps into adulthood and the point where the serialised nature of the show became an integral part of what people expected from Buffy.
7) Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered. I was toying with having this one under Honourable Mentions as it isn't particularly earth-shattering in terms of the Buffy Mythos or its importance to season 2. But it is very, very, funny and also very clever it also begins the process of making Xander a more centred and confident character. Marti Noxon would go on to be known as the series “angst writer” with Jane Epenson becoming the shows “comedy” writer. But back in season 2 Marti was still the funny one. The basic story is that Xander uses a spell to get Cordelia back after a break up. The spell backfires; Cordelia is immune to its effect whilst the rest of Sunnydale's female population find Xander irresistible. This somewhat clichéd idea fuels the entire episode with Marti Noxon piling on one great joke after another.
8) Passion. An incredible episode. Perfect in every way. One of the regulars is murdered by another regular and Giles goes apeshit as a result. Suddenly everything becomes very dark, very nasty and very dangerous. Visceral and disturbing just about covers it here.
9) Becoming (Part 1 & part 2). The season finale of season 2. This is damn good and damn clever. It is also epic and serves as a dry run for the ground that the Angel spin off would cover for 5 years. This story sees some classic moments. Buffy's mother finally being forced to see what her daughter is, the first moment in the humanisation of Spike, the death of a slayer (a permanent one!) and Buffy saving the day in an awesome moment of romantic tragedy. Buffy may have gone on to have stronger seasons and finales (season 5 being a personal favourite); but never again would the show be able to hit a cumulative peak of sheer brilliance of episodes, combined with such an array of crucial developments and revelations.
Honourable Mentions: When she was Bad, Halloween, Phases, I Only Have Eyes for You.
Season 3 is, to my mind, one of consolidation. The season is more consistent than season 2 (no real bad episodes at all) but for my money it only occasionally hits the heights that season 2 often reached. Similarly there are nowhere near as many moments of revelation and surprise as season 2 provides. This is understandable given all that had already been revealed about the principle characters. Nevertheless the show maintained a high quality which is reflected in the sheer number of honourable mentions.
1) Faith, Hope and Trick. Actually something of a functional episode, but it qualifies on the basis of being an immensely important show for both Buffy and the eventual Angel Spin-off. This show introduces a recurring bad guy who would be relevant for the first half or season 3, but more importantly it introduces Faith. Faith is usually though of as The Other Slayer and as being a somewhat screwed up individual.
2) Band Candy. Utterly superb. If Passions is the Perfect Tragedy/Angst episode, then Band Candy is its mirror image. The perfect Comedy episode. As with Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, this is a show which takes a somewhat clichéd idea and makes it all shiny and new. The basic idea is that the adult population of Sunnydale revert to their teenage years giving the wiggins to the Scoobies in the process. This one is almost endlessly quotable and full of great moments (Giles: Oooh Coppa's got a gun!, Giles: Hit him, Joyce pulling out the handcuffs, Snider's every line, Buffy stamping out Joyce's ciggie). However, as funny as it is, this episode reveals as much of the characters as many an angsty episode has done. Whilst Snider is no more likeable at the end of the episode, he is more understandable. You can see the life of loneliness and disappointment that he must have led. Similarly, whilst Giles is no less likeable, you get a real sense of how insufferable he would have been during the Ripper years and of his more dangerous side. An absolute classic of the first order.
3) Amends. Buffy's take on a Christmas Carol. A beautiful poignant episode which also lays more ground work for the Angel spin-off and sets up season 7 too. I love it when the snow falls.
4 & 5) Bad Girls & Consequences. The former episode culminates in Faith making a VERY bad mistake and the second deals with her reaction to this mistake (which is worse). Along the way there are some fantastic moments (Giles knowing Faith has lied to him), Faith's “I don't care” which has about a million levels of emotion behind it. There's also a good deal of The Mayor, who is frankly George Bush Jnr in all but name!
6) Enemies. Very much an arc episode, but a good one which is also a complete story in its own right. This one sees the Scoobies learn of the Mayor's plan. It also revives the always brilliant Buffy/Angel angst and sees Faith go ever further to the Dark Side. The ending is a little too clever and convenient though.
7) Choices. Another arc episode but one which is very important to the development of the characters of the show. The Buffy/Angel angst gets ramped up by the Mayor and the pieces are put in place for Season 4 and the season 3 finale. There's a distinct atmosphere of impending doom in this one and the finale set piece and stand off is incredibly tense.
8 & 9) Graduation Day (Part 1 & 2). And so we reach another season finale. This one doesn't quiet hit the high points of Becoming, but it runs it pretty close. Loads of great stuff, The stabbing, Angel draining Buffy's blood, Snider's demise, The Mayor's demise, Buffy leaving the Watcher's counsel and on and on it goes.
Honourable Mentions: Anne, Homecoming, Lovers Walk, The Wish, The Zeppo, Doppelgangland, Earshot, The Prom.