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Old July 16 2011, 03:41 AM   #55
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Re: Once More, With Feeling: my big Buffy/Angel canon rewatch/reread/r

This is the first review that was so long I had to split it into two parts.

2.07. Lie to Me

I remember that this was, during my first watch, the episode of BtVS that made me think “wow, this show is really something much more serious and complex than I ever expected”. And it’s awesome no matter how many times I watch it, perfectly written and directed, and showing just how much the quality of the show has increased since the pilot. The last scene is a mission statement that things are not going to be as simple as good guys defeating monsters, but the entire episode seems to constantly question what the truth is. The moment that an idea is introduced, it’s subverted, and nothing can be taken at face value.

For the arc, the most important thing is that we learn about Angel’s history with Drusilla and get a few hints about their complex and twisted relationship. Dru is extremely sinister in the chilling opening scene, going hunting and about to kill a little boy, when Angel turns up to stop her and tell her to leave Sunnydale with Spike – but at the same time, she is disturbingly human as she remembers the song her mother sang to her (just as she intends to make the little boy her food) and reminds Angel of her family that he killed. Unlike the vampires in season 1, Drusilla is a monster and a victim in equal measure. I’m not sure I could ever quite understand her attitude to her human family and Angel – she is taking every chance to make him feel guilty, but she’s very happy to have him back when he’s soulless; did she just like tormenting him with guilt when she knew he could feel it (with a soul), is she just hoping he’d realize he should be evil and with his family, is there genuine hidden resentment over her family’s deaths that comes out only then, is she just bitter at him for leaving his vampire “family”? Well, she is insane, so there’s that.

Drusilla’s and Angel’s meeting at the graveyard gets Buffy jealous since she sees them and misinterprets it as a lovers tryst (and Drusilla, in her old-fashioned dress, probably seems to Buffy just like the kind of women she thought Angel liked in Halloween). Not that she’s completely off the mark, since we’ll later get a confirmation that they share sexual history, and later in the episode Spike is also obviously jealous at the idea of Dru meeting Angel, but Angel’s uncomfortable reactions around Dru have a lot more to do with the guilt he feels whenever he looks at her, than anything romantic. Buffy starts questioning whether she trusts Angel, even though it’s for the wrong reasons – she still seems to worry mostly about other women he could be interested in. But she gets harsh dose of reality when she learns the full story about Dru.

The focal character in the episode, however, and the one who drives the actions, is Billy “Ford” Fordam (guest star Jason Behr), Buffy’s old friend from Hemery High. As with Owen in Never Kill A Boy on the First Date, the new guy gets both Angel and Xander jealous. It’s one of the few occasions in seasons 1-2 when Xander’s jealousy (over any guy that Buffy shows any interest in) is funny more than it’s annoying, especially when he does his best to use Angel to try to make Ford jealous (barking up the wrong tree, Ford has interests other than romance) and then to use Ford to make Angel jealous. Buffy’s relationship with Angel is still very tentative at this point – when Ford asks her if Angel is her boyfriend, she isn’t sure how to answer: “No. Yeah. Maybe”. And Ford probably reminds Buffy of childhood and happier, simpler times, and he seems too good to be true when it turns out he knows that she’s a Slayer and isn’t the least bit bothered by it. It must be quite a shock for Buffy when he turns out that he has in fact been planning to deliver her to Spike so he could get what he wants – to become a vampire, not to mention that he’s ready to get a bunch of his vampire wannabe friends killed. Buffy has dealt with human villains before (the coach in Nightmares) and even with somewhat sympathetic human villains (Marcie, Ampata if she could still be considered human), but Ford is, in addition to that, an old friend. And it turns out that he’s a muhahaha villain, as we might have thought for a moment; instead, he has an understandable human motivation – he’s dying of cancer, and desperately wants immortality. But, like Ampata, his despair and desire to live has made him incredibly selfish, deceptive and ready to sacrifice others for his own goals.

The title can refer to a number of situations where the issue of trust, truth and lies come up:
  • Buffy wonders if she can trust Angel when she sees him with Drusilla in the graveyard.
  • On a less serious note, Jenny tells Giles he just has to trust her when it comes to the surprise she’s prepared for their next date… and then takes him to watch monster trucks. Poor Giles. (Jenny’s tastes are horrible – American football, monster trucks – but I like that they’re so contrary to stereotypical “chick” stuff.)
  • Drusilla isn’t lying, but she’s being evasive and manipulative when Spike asks her if she met with Angel and expresses concern and obvious jealousy, and when he starts showing annoyance with her crazy talk about her dead bird, immediately reverts to her little girl persona, whines and acts helpless until Spike melts. We’re starting to see that, below the romantic surface and sickeningly sweet cooing to each other, that relationship is far from perfect.
  • Ford tells Buffy he knows her secret, that she’s a Slayer, and she doesn’t have to lie to him.
  • Ford tells his vampire wannabe friend ‘Diego’ to trust him that he’ll help them all become vampires. Of course, they shouldn’t trust him, since intends to just let the vampires kill them, while he gets to be the only one to be sired.
  • Angel has a gut feeling that there’s something wrong with Ford and that he can’t be trusted, and even though Willow first thinks he’s just biased because of his jealousy, he turns out to be right. (I can see a parallel between Angel in this episode and Xander in season 2: Xander is so obviously jealous of Angel and disliked him even before he knew Angel was a vampire, that nobody could take his misgivings about Angel seriously, because of his blatant bias. Still, one could say that Xander’s gut feeling was right.)
  • Willow finds it hard to have to hide the truth from Buffy, when Angel asks her not to tell Buffy that they are investigating Ford: “You want me to lie to her?!”
  • Buffy is upset that Angel, Willow and Xander have been investigating Ford behind her back, implying that she’s disappointed with “the people I trust”. She asks Angel to tell her the truth about Drusilla: “Don’t lie to me. I’m tired of it”. Angel replies that sometimes lies are necessary, because the truth is worse. Buffy tells him she can take the truth, but when she learns the horrible story of what he did to Drusilla, it proves to be almost too much.
  • Angel tells Buffy not to trust Ford.
  • Buffy calls Ford a lying scumbag. He replies “Everybody lies.”
  • In the last scene, Buffy asks Giles the exact opposite of what she asked Angel: “Lie to me” – finding the moral ambiguity and confusion of her world too much to bear, and asking for a comforting lie that everything is simple and the world is black and white. But she’s unable to lull herself into that belief.
Oddly enough, one of the few people who don’t lie in this episode is Spike when he promises to sire Ford in exchange for having Buffy ‘delivered’. I thought at first he wasn’t going to keep his promise, judging by the sinister looks that he and Dru were giving Ford. But that might have been because they were aware that Buffy will stake Ford as soon as he rises from his grave anyway.

The na´ve vampire worshipers/wannabes in the Sunset Club – as Ford points out, lonely, unhappy teenagers looking for something to fill their lives with - seem to be a mockery not just of emo-goth scene but also Anne Rice-style vampire fiction that romanticizes vampires – and maybe also of out culture’s tendency to romanticize many real-life criminals. (The funniest thing is that today this looks a lot like a mockery of Twilight, obviously written much later.
On the other hand, Ford knows very well that vampires are evil, but doesn’t care and wants to be one anyway – and just like the vamp worshipers annoyed Angel, Spike finds Ford very irritating. Spike probably wants to be feared as an evil bloodsucking fiend that he is, rather than treated like a celebrity. There’s also a reference to the “live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse” philosophy, with Ford saying that they’re about to do what every American teenager should get a chance to do: die young and stay pretty.

While the episode is largely about the issue of moral complexity/ambiguity, it even seems to parody that idea for a moment, when vampire wannabe Chanterelle says to Angel: “You don’t have to be so confrontational about it, other viewpoints than yours may be valid”. Maybe it’s a reminder that, for all the moral ambiguity, the show doesn’t support moral relativism, there is still such a thing as truth and facts, and there are some things that are undeniably good/evil.

But it’s not that simple – right after Angel points out how deluded the vampire worshipers are, and how they have no idea what vampires are really like, “what they look like, how they dress…”, his words are undercut when a guy walks by dressed exactly the same as Angel. Which, in a funny way, hints that BtVS itself could be, to an extent, blamed for the same things it parodies. The show walks a tight line between a portraying vampires as “nasty, pointy, bitey ones” – unlike in some other fictional universes, in Buffyverse they are, for the most part, definitely evil, violent and dangerous – and romanticizing them despite that, as with the character of Angel and his relationship with Buffy, as well as the Spike/Drusilla relationship at this point in season 2. But what the show also does is constantly subvert those romantic images.

Isn’t there a similarity between the way that the Sunset Club people think of vampires as harmless and good and noble, and the way that Buffy and the Scoobies treat Angel as “Carebear with fangs”? Buffy has fallen for Angel as a mysterious, dark and brooding handsome older guy who seemed almost unattainable a lot of the time, and then as a good vampire/vampire with the soul, but fact is that she doesn’t really know a lot about him, and while she’s generally aware that he had a very dark past, she hasn’t really processed it fully. When she hears Drusilla’s story from Angel, it’s a real shock to her.

And (I'm going to go on a bit of a tangent here...) one could say the same about us, the fans – we were always aware, on the abstract level, of the crimes that Angel or Spike had committed in their days as evil soulless vamps, but usually it doesn’t really register unless 1) it’s shown on screen, and especially if 2) it happens to a character we know and care about. I’ve often wondered how it would affect us, the fandom, if we got HBO-style graphic scenes of violence in the Fanged Four flashbacks, since most viewers’ reaction to anything – if not rational, than emotional one - is along the lines of “video, or it didn’t happen”. Of course, we’re not in-universe and for us they’re fictional characters, and don’t misunderstand me: I utterly despise any attempts to treat fiction as real life or impose ‘moral’ obligations on fans to like/not like characters – and most of my favorite characters in Buffyverse have been evil at some point. But I do find it funny when people except the characters in-universe to act the same (how could they treat such a woobie as soulless Spike so badly, etc.) or when people can act so inconsistently when making judgments: nobody blinks when Angel/Angelus kills redshirts but only when he snaps necks of major cast members it becomes an issue; a bunch of fans will tell you how much they loved Spike when he was the “cool villain” and/or when he was being funny and annoying everyone, but then they could never like him after he tried to rape Buffy… never mind that he had done much worse things many times, and without any remorse, back when he was the “cool villain”, and joked about his past murders without any guilt while he was the comic relief.

But on the other hand –should we take everything that Buffy says about vampires as fact, just because she's the hero of the show? When she starts explaining to Ford: “that's not how it works. You die, and a demon sets up shop in your old house, and it walks, and it talks, and it remembers your life, but it's not you”… some take it at face value, but this is just her belief, taught to her by Giles (an echo of his teachings in Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest), who in turn learned it from the Council of Watchers. Buffy knows, first hand, that vampires are dangerous, cruel killers. But Buffy has never been sired, she’s never been a vampire, and neither has Giles, or the Watchers who originated the theory (if any of them were ever sired, the other Watchers, obviously, wouldn’t believe them). So unless someone who was killed by a vampire came from heaven to tell the CoW that their spirit was in heaven while the demon had control over their body… the CoW, Giles and Buffy actually can’t have a clue what it’s like to be sired. But the CoW certainly had a reason to paint a black and white picture to their teenage Slayers, to make it easier for them to kill vampires, if they think of them as completely inhuman creatures, rather than former humans. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the only episode where Buffy and Giles are shown referring to vampires as “it” rather than “he” or “she”, emphasizing the idea that vampires are not people, but things. (It’s interesting to note that Drusilla seems to use the word person as synonymous to human – she says to the child in the graveyard “I am not a person”; but Spike, on the other hand, says “I am a bad, rude man” .) But they’re very inconsistent about this – even within a single scene!

Buffy: (picks up the picture) Who's this?
Giles: Um, she's called Drusilla, a sometime paramour of Spike's. She was killed by an angry mob in Prague.

Just a moment later, a blonde female vampire out of the library:

Giles: A book! It took one of my books!
Jenny: Well, at least someone in this school is reading.
Buffy: He said he killed it. That's the vampire Ford said he killed.

So, an anonymous vamp is “it”, just like those canon fodder vamps that rise out of their graves, but any vampire whom they get to know as an individual becomes a “he” and “she”.

Giles: Uh, I've been researching your friend Spike. Uh, the profile is fairly unappetizing. But I-I still haven't got a bead on why he's here.

Ironically, Buffy defeats Spike in this episode by taking Dru hostage – expecting the vampire to have a human motivation, and would care more about the life of his girlfriend than about feeding on humans. (And Buffy at this point knew nothing about Spike’s and Dru’s relationship – she didn’t see him act tender and caring with her like we have, so this was a pure guess.) And if Buffy actually believed in the CoW party line deep inside, she either 1) would have to concede that Angel is not a ‘person’, or 2) she wouldn’t be bothered by his history with Drusilla, since she would have to think that Angel, the souled vamp, never committed the crimes he’s just confessed to, but that a demon using his body did. I’d say that the idea that the vampire and the dead human are completely separate entities is just another comforting lie that Buffy would like to believe in, so things could be simple, black and white. For two reasons. First, killing things instead of killing evil people – it marks the difference between “not a killer” and “righteous killer”. Second, it’s disturbing to think that every human, even the nicest people, have the capacity to turn into evil versions of their old selves and become vicious killers, when “infected” by the darkness, “the demon”, and freed from morality and inhibitions.

Best lines: The last scene and the dialogue between Buffy and Giles – one of the most memorable endings in the series on the whole. It deserves to be quoted in its entirety:

Buffy: Nothing's ever simple anymore. I'm constantly trying to work it out. Who to love or hate. Who to trust. It's just, like, the more I know, the more confused I get.
Giles: I believe that's called growing up.Buffy: I'd like to stop then, okay?
Giles: I know the feeling.
Buffy: Does it ever get easy?
(Ford rises from the grave, Buffy stakes him)

Giles: You mean life?
Buffy: Yeah. Does it get easy?
Giles: What do you want me to say?
Buffy: Lie to me.
Giles: Yes, it's terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after.
Buffy: Liar.
Treason, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

my Buffy/Angel rewatch

Last edited by DevilEyes; July 16 2011 at 04:04 AM.
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