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Old February 21 2012, 07:35 AM   #136
DevilEyes
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Re: Once More, With Feeling: my big Buffy/Angel canon rewatch/reread/r

I've rewatched up to 3.8. Lovers Walk, I hope I'll find the time to finish all the reviews quickly and move on to The Wish.

3.04. Beauty and the Beasts

After the reveal of the last scene of Faith, Hope and Trick, this episode naturally deals with Buffy learning about Angel’s return, while at the same time it’s a sequel of sorts to Phases – as it’s only the second episode to deal with Oz’s werewolfishness and takes place during the 3 days he needs to be locked up in a cage. There are three eponymous “beasts” - Oz, Angel, and Pete, the actual villain of the episode. A werewolf, a vampire and a secretly enhanced human (sounds either like a fairytale, or like a beginning of a joke). There’s a victim of a brutal murder that looks like a work of a vicious animal, and the narrative plays with the possible suspects. Just like in Phases, there’s a murder victim and the suspicion first falls on Wolf!Oz, but again it’s not him (if that were the case, we’d have a guilt-ridden Oz, which the show didn’t need at the time) but this time it’s not Angel, either.

This episode is hated in some quarters, but I think it’s better than most people give it credit for. It s a dark episode that deals with themes of the monster/man duality, which are some of the themes running through the entire show. A popular complaint about the episode is that it’s preachy with its message about abusive relationships, but I don’t think that’s fair. The story about Pete and Debbie is a textbook example of an abusive man and his battered female partner (and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, BtVS has had lots of stories mirroring real life) but this is not a Lifetime movie – Pete/Debbie serves as a compare and contrast to the much more complicated Angel/Buffy relationship (just as the Oz/Willow relationships does, on the other side. The episode asks the questions, but the resolution and any messages we may get from it about Buffy’s own life and Buffy/Angel are very ambiguous. And it has an ending that people might see as darkly romantic and even cheesy, but that on this latest rewatch feels deliberately unresolved and unsettling.

Some people accuse this episode of being misandric, just based on the fact that Faith says that all men are beasts deep inside and “in it for the chase”. I find that quite odd, since there’s no reason to think that any character is the voice of the author – let alone Faith (few people think that we’re supposed to take everything comes out of her mouth as gospel truth when, for instance, in Consequences – also written by Marti Noxon, who wrote this episode – she says that Slayers are betters than everyone and should be above the law). It’s just one character’s opinion, and it’s a character who is heavily hinted to have come from an abusive background and had bad experiences with men (which she mentions a few episodes later in Revelations), who doesn't trust people, who treats relationships as something where you can be either a victim or an abuser, and who, as we see later, treats men in the same abusive way (Consequences). Incidentally, we already saw characters give „all men are beasts“ speeches in season 2 Phases - that time it was Buffy, coming on from a terrible experience with Angel in Innocence; this was obviously temporary since in this episode she calls Faith’s views cynical.

Faith has a small role here and appears just in a few scenes, but she and Buffy have become really friendly (which is both nice to see, and sad, knowing how things will turn out), and she seems so happy and carefree while listening to loud music while watching over Oz. There are just little signs of darkness, like her cynical attitude about men. Buffy is now even discussing boys with Faith the way she used to with Willow. Except that Willow wouldn’t ask Buffy if she and Scott are „kicking the gearshift“ (is that some euphemism for sex?) and if Buffy if Scott makes her hot (or in Faith’s words, if he gives her „that down-low tickle“). It’s pretty obvious from the way she talks about him that she doesn’t. („Yeah, I guess... How low?“) She’s trying to muster enthusiasm for the guy, but it’s not a good sign for a relationship when the most positive and appealing quality you can find in a guy is the absence of something negative (according to Buffy, the best thing about Scott is that he’s not any kind of hellbeast). It’s Faith describes Scott as „quite a muffin“ and Buffy adds he’s like a blueberry muffin „with crunchy-munchy stuff on top“. Geez, that’s so sexy – not. That’s like an 8-year old talking.

She obviously thinks that dating some guy is necessary as a sign that she’s moving on from her Angel trauma, since one of the first things she tells the school psychologist she has to see as a part of adjustment to the school is „I’m even seeing someone new“. The psychologist, Platt, is for a change, an intelligent and helpful authority figure good at his job, which was a sure sign he was doomed. (Plus, he’s one of the few black people on the show, and he smokes, two more obvious signs.) He helps Buffy by telling her that what she was going through (minus the supernatural stuff, which she, of course, didn’t tell him about) is something a lot of people go through and that she shouldn’t blame herself. While Faith was telling her how all men are beasts, Platt tells her that everyone has their own issues and demons. Platt’s conversation with Buffy contains the most memorable lines of the episode, since he more or less outlines some of the main themes of the show. “Demons can be fought. People can change. You can change.” His words are aimed at convincing Buffy that she can move on and resolve her problems, but when Buffy discovers that Angel is back, it gains the double meaning – a question whether Buffy’s vampire ex-lover can change and fight the demon inside. Platt also has this to say about unhealthy, codependent relationships (a message he probably also told Debbie, which would explain why she didn’t like some of the things he said, and why Pete had such a problem with the guy):

Platt: Lots of people lose themselves in love. It’s no shame. They write songs about it. The hitch is: you can’t stay lost. Sooner or later, you have to get back to yourself.
Buffy: But if you can’t?
Platt: Love becomes your master, and you’re just its dog.

It’s interesting to compare this line with Spike’s famous line from Lovers Walk “I may be love’s bitch, but at least I’m man enough to admit it”. But this is also a very meaningful dialogue because, for the rest of the show, we’ll get to see Buffy becoming less willing to take emotional risks when it comes to romance, trying not to be “love’s dog” again, with variable and questionable results.

When Buffy, to her shock, runs into Angel while she’s hunting for the killer, she finds out he’s become like a wild animal. I think that was a good way to deal with his return – it makes sense that he wouldn’t be sane after being tortured in hell for hundreds of years. The next episodes made him regain his sanity way too fast. Buffy will keep the secret of Angel’s return until 3.7. Revelations, but she comes close to telling Giles here, telling him instead that she dreamed of Angel coming back, and questioning him about hell dimensions and what Angel would be like „if“ he returned. Giles admits he dreamed about Jenny being alive for a long time. I wonder if the mention of her name made Buffy even less comfortable with telling Giles. In this episode, it’s actually quite understandable that she’s worried that Angel might be the killer, but that she wants to find out first and is scared that the Scoobies might jump to conclusions and want him dead immediately (Xander probably would – and the fact that Buffy believes that Willow told Xander to give her the message „Kick his ass“ is probably influencing her decision not to tell the Scoobies about Angel). The one person she wanted to tell, Platt, got murdered before she got a chance to.

Scott’s friends Debbie and Pete are introduced as a saccharine sweet couple, which in this show usually means that something’s not right. Buffy’s bland rebound boyfriend is a bit more likeable and manages to even be genuinely funny for a moment, but Buffy is already in the stage of pulling away and acting uncomfortable with his attention, and I’m not sure if this is supposed to be a sign of how she’s distracted by Angel’s return, but it looks a lot like the way you’d react to the attention of a guy you’re really not that into. Pete refers to Buffy as „manic depressive chick“, another sign of what people in the school think about her.

Buffy and Willow are now in the same position, even though Willow and the others don’t know it. As Willow points out to Buffy, now it’s her boyfriend who may be the vicious killer. Oz was the first suspect, due to the fact that Xander fell asleep while watching his cage and that the window was open the night of the first murder. (It’s really convenient that nobody ever comes to check what’s going on in the library and doesn’t notice that there’s a naked student locked in a cage.) Speaking of which, Xander acts a bit flirtatious and shows some jealousy over Willow and Oz, which may be a setup for the Willow/Xander fling that begins in the next episode, but on Willow’s side, I don’t see such a setup since she seems completely in love with Oz. Both Oz and Angel are cleared of suspicion when it’s revealed that Platt, the second victim, was killed during the day. Willow has a really adorable moment when she shouts „YES!“ to that news, before quickly correcting herself „I mean, it’s awful...“

Giles told Buffy that there were two kinds of monsters – those who can respond to reason and love and can be redeemed, and those who can’t. Of the three “beasts” in this episode, only Pete is portrayed as irredeemable. Pete's characterization is dead-on accurate portayal of a real life abuser, if I go by my mother's account of her abusive first husband's behavior: outwardly charming, but really deeply insecure, and pathologically jealous and possessive as a result. Oz is a super-nice guy and perfect boyfriend when not in wolf shape, and he really doesn’t have any control over his wolf side. Pete is on the other end of the spectrum: he devised a potion to turn himself into a monster out of the desire to be more masculine for his girlfriend, but after a while he didn’t even need the potion – his monstrous nature was a part of who he was. After an abusive episode, he turns ’nice’ and loving again, but the fact that he blames Debbie for provoking him ruins any shred of sympathy he might have. Where does that leave Angel? Somewhere in between, it’s just ambiguous where exactly. But the ending of the episode portrays him as capable of redemption, and he’s the one to defeat Pete. Pete is a man who decided to be a monster, while Angel is a monster trying to be a man, and on BtVS, the latter is typically more sympathetic and morally superior to the former (see also: Warren and Spike).

When he kills Pete, saves Buffy and then literally falls at Buffy’s feet and whispers her name – his first word since coming back from hell – it’s a very melodramatic moment, but also unsettling; Buffy is obviously deeply moved, but there’s angst on her face, not happiness; like she knows that the pain and drama she tried to left behind is back into her life. I remember a discussion on LJ about the resolution of this episode: what does it mean and is it disturbing that Buffy doesn’t manage to defeat Pete and that Angel saves her instead; not in the sense that Buffy is a superwoman who can defeat everyone, but in the sense that the monsters are representations of real life problems. One of the few monsters Buffy can’t defeat is Pete, the representation of Bad Boyfriend; it takes another Bad Boyfriend – Buffy’s own, redeemable one – to kill Pete. One of the main reasons why Buffy’s arc in season 3 is unsatisfying is that she never actually manages to properly deal with her season 2 trauma or to resolve her relationship with Angel either way; she doesn’t even have control over how it ends in season 3, Angel is the one who makes that decision. In that light, this resolution might be perfectly appropriate.

Here’s one awesome detail I’ve noticed - in the scene where Buffy is lecturing Debbie about abusive relationships, pay attention to the really interesting poster on the locker room behind Buffy:



“MOST WOMEN AREN’T ATTRACTED TO DEAD GUYS” (!!!)

Debbie is battered woman who’s „lost herself“ and protecting her abuser, and who sadly ends up killed by him. A cautionary tale, and it’s a pretty straightforward one if we ignore the subtext and see Buffy as a neutral party who’s just telling Debbie the harsh and necessary truth. „While you guys enjoy your grim fairy-tale, two people are dead.“ Someone could say something similar about Buffy and Angel. (And in fact, Xander does say something similar a few times.) „Anybody who really loved you couldn’t do this to you.“ It’s a lot more interesting to see Buffy talking about this in the light of her inability to address the things Angel did in season 2. And all the more when we know that 3 years later she’ll get herself involved against her better judgment in another abusive relationship, in which she’ll be both victim and abuser. And then there’s season 8...

The episode ends with Scott’s words that you never really know what’s going on inside someone, even if you care for them, and a segue to the last scene of Buffy in Angel’s mansion, watching him asleep, with Buffy’s voice over from Call of the Wild: „ Night came on, and a full moon rose high over the trees, lighting the land till it lay bathed in ghostly day… and the strain of the primitive remained alive and active. Faithfulness and devotion, things born of fire and roof, were his; yet he retained his wildness and wiliness. And from the depths of the forest - the call still sounded." The obvious meaning seems to be that Buffy is thinking about the fact that she doesn’t really know what’s in Angel’s mind and heart, and about the duality of his devotion to her and his demonic nature. But I can’t help but think that it may also refer to Buffy’s own „wild“ and disturbing impulses, despite her her good girl personality and devotion to her friends and family, and to the fact that she’s keeping secrets from them and that they don’t really know what’s going on inside her.

Best lines:
Mr. Platt: Look, Buffy, any person—grown-up, shrink... Pope—any person who claims to be totally sane is either lying or not very bright.

Buffy: We have a marching jazz band?
Oz: Yeah, but, you know, since the best jazz is improvisational, we'd be going off in all directions, bumping into floats... scary.
Willow: He's just being Oz.
Oz: Pretty much full time.

Fashion watch: This is something I really should have been doing since the pilot, but in this season the fashion choices of the characters (particularly Buffy and Faith, since the others are dressing rather consistently) are really something I have to comment on episode by episode.Everyone is dressing better than in the previous episode: Faith’s clothes are not so trashy, she’s dressed as a rock chick in jeans and leather, and Buffy’s clothes are less mom-like, but she wears a lot of pastel colors and at one time has a flower in her hair. It’s like this season she’s dressing either too young or too old for her age and far less sexy than in season 1 and 2 wardrobe. On the positive side, while slaying she’s again (for the first time since season 2) wearing her leather jacket that Angel gave her in Teacher's Pet and that she usually wore while going to slay. The pastel dresses and flowers are for girly Buffy, the Leather Jacket of Slaying is a sign of decisive badass Buffy.

Shirtless scene: Angel spends the entire episode shirtless, but, amazingly, he has his pants on. It’s good to know that even in his wild state he managed to get his pants on. Did he take the pants off of some human, or did the hell dimension drop him a suitcase with clothes?

What the slashy heck: Another one of “sexually insecure Xander” remarks:Xander says he can handle Oz’s full monty nudity and then quickly adds: “I mean, not ‘handle’ handle, like hands to flesh handle”.

Pop culture references: The fairytale Beauty and the Beast; that story is about a monster who’s really has a good heart beneath the beastly exterior and turns out to be a cursed human prince. I’m not sure that anyone in this episode fits that description, though Oz comes the closest, and Pete is pretty much the opposite. Pete is compared to Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Incredible Hulk. Call of the Wild is quoted in Buffy’s voice overs at the beginning and end of the episode, and it the book Willow reads to wolf!Oz to calm him down. Willow says saying that the book seems to “soothe the savage beast”, which is a popular misquote of William Congreve’s line “music has charms to soothe the savage breast”. (The misquote sounds so much better.) Grimm fairy-tales. The Full Monty (Willow says she hasn’t seen Oz’s full monty, just half a monty). Faith references Manimal, apparently a TV show and one I’ve never heard about: “Every guy from Manimal to Mr. I-love-English Patient is the same”.

Rating: 3.5
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my Buffy/Angel rewatch
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