2.08. The Dark Age
Well, this is a much less complex episode than the previous one. It’s a decent horror story and a good character episode for Giles. Its main purpose is to explore Giles’ backstory, hinted previously in Halloween
, and show that he is not just what he seems to be – a common theme in the show, people proving to be more than meets the eye. The episode therefore goes out of its way to show how stuffy and dull the Scoobies think Giles is – even Jenny thinks he’s a “fuddy-duddy”, though she thinks he’s a sexy fuddy-duddy – only to show him scruffy, drinking, having issues, and acting impulsive, angry and violent (to Ethan, of course) and reveal that he had a wild, rebellious youth, which he has been trying to get away from by assuming his rule-abiding librarian persona. There is dualism within almost every character, and it’s interesting that Giles/Ripper dualism is in some ways similar to Angel/Angelus: a different (nick)name is used for Giles’ alter ego, and he even says “So, you’re back” when looking at himself in the mirror.
The “Dark Age” from the title probably has a double meaning of a dark (morally ambiguous, dangerous) part of Giles’ life, and a part of his life unknown to the Scoobies (though it might also be a reference to Jenny’s remark in an earlier episode that Giles is stuck in the Dark Ages). The story about dabbling in black magicks and summoning demons seems to be a pretty obvious metaphor for discovering that your Baby Boomer dad or teacher or another stuffy middle-aged guy used to be wild in college in 1960s or early 1970s and do hallucinogenic and other drugs (especially with the psychodelic-looking flashbacks). Then someone dies, and Giles is the one who decides to get clean and becomes a law-abiding citizen, while Ethan is the one who keeps up with the same lifestyle years later, which is the source of conflict and resentment between them.
Ethan must have become a popular character after his appearance, since they kept bringing him back in some of the later seasons, and having him escape every time. In this episode, in addition to being a wild card and loving to bring chaos, which we knew about him from his first appearance, he proves to be unapologetically selfish and concerned with his own survival above everything else. He also says honesty is his main virtue, then adds “Not really”, which would mean that he lied that he was honest, but then was honest about being a liar… uh, this is getting a bit complicated.
In the end the main purpose of the story seems to have been to make Giles a bit more reletable and interesting, as well as bring him and Buffy closer, as she realizes that they have more in common than she thought: Giles was also rebelling against his destiny. And while it’s usually Giles helping Buffy after she rebels and screws up, and being non-judgmental about her mistakes, here Buffy does that with him – being the ‘parent’, for a change. Funny how teenage Buffy makes a distinction between “adult” and “person” (saying she thought of Giles as the adult, but then she learned he was “a person”) – not just by age, I assume, since she doesn’t seem to think of 20-something Angel as an“adult” - “adult” means rules, order, boredom.
At the same time the revelation of Giles’s past is the cause why Jenny decides to take a break from their relationship, after having been possessed by the demon Eyghon, as a result of Giles’s dark secrets. Later in Innocence
, their roles will be reversed when Giles learns Jenny’s dark secret and feels betrayed.
I’m a bit disappointed that the revelation about Giles’s youth was almost never followed upon – except in humorous way when Giles turned into a ‘bad boy’ in Band Candy.
Maybe it’s because the planned Ripper spinoff never happened.In Halloween,
Ethan said he knew what “Ripper” was capable of… Could that mean that Giles was the one who killed their friend when they didn’t find another way to cast the demon out – doing what needed to be done, even when it involves a murder? It would fit with what we later see in The Gift
One thing that makes me like this episode less is that Cordelia and Xander are both a bit… exaggerated. Cordelia is just too tactless and clueless to the point of stupidity, and Xander is sort of annoying and fake in his quips. But it’s great to see Willow show her strong, confident side, becoming authoritative and successfully ordering them to stop bickering and get back to business.
Xander mentions the infamous Uncle Rory first time by name, as a hard-working taxidermist who lead a wild lifestyle at night. He’ll be referenced a few more times, before we meet him in season 6 Hell’s Bells
Eyghon seems to be a male demon and rather sexist – insulting Giles by telling him he’s acting like a woman (when he’s being emotional).
There’s an amusing scene where Buffy stops some vampires from attacking the paramedics and robbing the blood bank, gets help from Angel, who just happened to find himself there (hmm...), and then asks him, a little unsure, if he could get the blood safely to the hospital.. The looks on both their faces make that one of the few funny B/A moments.
Giles has dreams that seem prophetic, like Slayers do. Does he have some psychic abilities, too, or did the writers just think it would be cool and didm’t think it through?
The Scoobies defeat Eyghon by letting him jump into the “dead person” – Angel, whose body is technically dead – and have him fight with the demon inside Angel. I’ve seen some people name this as evidence for two entities theory (Angel/Angelus), understanding “demon” to mean Angelus, which is a misinterpretation, IMO. Every vampire has a “demon” inside, but as we later see in the Pylea arc in season 2 of AtS, the demon is not a sapient creature. In season 1 and 2 we learned about the Watchers official stance that a vampire is simply a dead human body taken over by a demon, but in season 8 Giles gives an updated version of the mythology that fits much better with what we’ve seen in the verse: vampires are hybrids, humans infected with the demon. This is how I see it: a vampire is a symbiotic creature; the human body is technically dead, but it is reanimated by the demon, who keeps it alive by supernatural means and gives it immortality, superstrength and heling, but also bloodlust and heightened aggression, and possibly a “connection” to some sort of collective evil. But the spirit – or, if you will, continued consciousness - of the human is still there, and intelligence, memories and personality traits all seen to come from the human “host”.
As an equation, I would put it like this: soulless vampire = (human - soul) + demon; souled vampire = human + demon. Or, in Angel’s case, Angelus = (Liam - soul) + demon; Angel = Liam + demon.
Buffy: "Have I ever let you down?"
Giles: "Do you want me to answer that, or should I just glare?"
Pop culture references:
Buffy and Willow play the game ‘Anywhere But Here’, fantasizing about Gavin Rossdale, the singer of Bush, and actor John Cusack, respectively, while Xander’s fantasy fodder is Hong Kong movie star Amy Yip. (In season 8, Buffy and Willow will play the same game again, and Buffy’s fantasy is similar – again on the beach - except that it involves Daniel Craig.)
Bay City Rollers – boy band from 1970s - Giles is probably joking and winding Buffy up when he says he likes them; as we later see, his taste is more along the lines of Cream and Velvet Underground.
Buffy says Giles “Lost Weekended”, referencing Billy Wilder’s 1945 film about alcoholism, Lost Weekend
The Sound of Music
is also referenced ironically in the context of being all happy.
The picture of young Giles in leather and with a guitar is, from what I’ve read, a montage of the photo of young ASH and Sid Vicious.
Eyghon references the song “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” when talking about possessing Giles (in a speech full of disturbing sexual double entendres). The title of that song will be used in AtS for a title of an episode about demonic possession.
Xander says that“
Nobody can be wound as straight and narrow as Giles without a dark side erupting”. Same thing can be said about Willow. It’s worth noting that Willow was the only one who, at the beginning of the episode, thought that there might be more to Giles than his stuffy persona, while Buffy an Xander were sure he was always like that. Buffy does show a tendency to judge by appearances.