03 May, 2011

The Great Buffy Rewatch: Bad Girls

              While The Zeppo is a stand-alone episode, barely if at all dealing with the mythology of the season, Bad Girls and Consequences – they’re really a two-parter, aren’t they? – are very much the mythology of the season.  In fact, they’re the season’s very turning point.  While up through these episodes we’ve been chugging up the track of that first big hill, the rest of the season is the roller coaster ride.  And, wow.

w Doug Petrie
d Michael Lange

As I say, I’d forgotten just how significant especially Bad Girls is, but felt better when the writer himself, Doug Petrie, said the same in his DVD Commentary Track.  But think of it.  The Mayor full-fledgingly (it’s a word) stepping into his role;  the introduction of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce (as it’s spelled in Petrie’s script, though we’ll also see it Wyndam-Price and Wyndham-Price);  Angel and Wesley meet;  another character (Balthazar) references The Mayor’s importance;  we’re introduced to Faith’s longbow;  and The Mayor becomes invincible.  (All in just forty-four minutes!)
There is always The Big Bad of the Season, and Season 3’s is of course The Mayor, but the more significant enemy – certainly to Buffy personally – is Faith.  Throughout the first three seasons, though it will certainly carry throughout the entire series, Buffy has had to balance her personal life with the life of The Slayer.  But what Season 3 looks at specifically, certainly from Bad Girls forward, is what happens when the life of The Slayer takes a different path.  (Our great What If episode The Wish looked at this as well, but singularly, and from its Elseworld point of view.  Now – much like the cool of The Zeppoit’s really happening.)
What makes Buffy the hero she is are a myriad of influences, most significantly the people in her life.  Remember Spike in School Hard?  “A Slayer with family and friends.  That sure as hell wasn't in the brochure.”  Joyce as her mother – and this is the topic of a much longer article, but consider the impact Joyce had on Buffy’s life for the fifteen years before she became The Slayer.  Giles as her Watcher and father figure.  Willow and Xander as her friends.  Angel (period).  Even Oz and Anya.  But just as significant as having her family around her proves, it’s the woman Buffy – Slayer aside – is inherently.  Like Peter Parker, another hero we know is inherently a good person, Buffy enjoys quipping with her enemies in a light-hearted manner.  She still wants to finish High School, go to College.  She still wants to fall in love, shop, pay her bills.  She still wants to be a normal girl (still very much a part of who she is).  So imagine stripping it all away from her.  How she was raised, the family around her, her sense of humor, the girl inside the woman.  Would she still be as good a hero?      
Or to put it as simply as possible … what if The Slayer was bad?
This is the fun Whedon & Company get to have with Faith.  And as unnerving as it is, fun is indeed a key word.  Because few people enjoy – find pure giddiness in – being evil as much as The Mayor and Faith.  (Especially The Mayor.  Like Sue Sylvester on Glee, reveling in The Dark Side, it’s why The Mayor is often a – without question my – favorite Big Bad.)  As old a device as this is in Story – many a Superman has his Bizarro – there’s always something enticing about delving into the dark mirror.
It starts innocently enough – “Count of three isn’t a plan, it’s Sesame Street” – but soon delves deeper:  Buffy cutting class through the window (which, frankly, the teacher didn’t notice?) and dancing at The Bronze.  Then very deep indeed with the accidental killing of The Deputy Mayor[i].  And I think accidental is a key word, not just for their innocence sake, but for Faith’s turn specifically in that she knows she has a way out if she talks to Giles, but chooses to let the walls she’s built up keep her from doing the right thing.  (The walls Buffy herself may also have if not for her mother, friends, et cetera.)  Faith isn’t drawn to The Dark Side for money or power or anything Evil offers her[ii], but is thrust there as accidentally -- as innocently -- as Buffy.  And this is where Whedon & Co write her so well:  Faith’s very walls simply let her flounder there.  (But more on that in our Part 2, Consequences.)
Re Buffy herself -- and this reiterates what I often say about Good Writing always staying within Character -- one might argue that her being our hero – an inherently good girl – well, she wouldn’t do some of the things she does in this episode:  lying about the Deputy Mayor’s death, stealing from the hardware store, injuring the cops to escape from them.  But she does them all within the Frame of being who she is.  I particularly like the moment after the car crash where she checks the cops to make sure they’re okay.  This could easily have not been written or shot (or it could have been cut for time) but including it deftly solidifies who she is.  She may be delving into her own Dark Side for one episode – and fair enough – but she’s still our girl.  Besides, who can blame her for almost being drowned a second time?  Considering Prophesy Girl, Petrie says it’s a bit like “baptism by fire.”  And perhaps she deserves burning off a little steam.  I know I’m getting ahead of myself, but what ultimately solidifies her remaining our hero is the end of Consequences where there’s this exchange –

I really thought we were gonna lose her.

She still has a lot to face before she can put this behind her. But yes,
she has a real chance. Because you didn't give up on her.

            The difference between Buffy and Faith is clear.  Faith feels alone.  But -- again -- as Buffy has her mother, Giles, and friends, she can also be a friend.
            This is, too, perhaps the topic for a longer article – Cops In Sunnydale – but it’s interesting to see when and where we see Cops in the series.  Two significant episodes right in a row are Bad Girls and Consequences where they’re all over the place.  I’d feel bad for not at least mentioning it, so here we go.  I’m ashamed not to give credit to whomever mentioned this in the Season 1 Commentary, but there’s Giles’ line, “People have a tendency to rationalize what they can and forget what they can't.”[iii]  And there’s the reasonable buy-in that, as we now know The Mayor is “a black hat” (as Faith will say in the next ep), he might send the police after our heroes a bit more vehemently than before.
Before we get into Consequences, I’d be remiss not to touch on the introduction of our dear Wesley.  And I hope you agree he is dear.  I certainly think of him that way.  When Doug Petrie pitched the character to Whedon, he says, “Originally I had thought of a Michael J. Fox type, kind of a George Stephanopoulos American young aggressive go-getter,” which I think would have been a fun balance, but then we’d miss the doubly British moments like this --

It's not all books and theory nowadays. I have in fact faced
two vampires - under controlled circumstances, of course.

Well, you're in no danger of finding any here.


Controlled circumstances.

Then both of them closing that scene by cleaning their glasses at the same time?  Indeed, “Giles The Next Generation,” as Cordelia says in the next episode, just shines.  Petrie also notes in his DVD Commentary Track that giving Wesley the brainy bumbling also allowed them to take most of that away from Giles, who, for two-and-a-half years, played that role.  This, of course, more solidly places Giles in the role of the quieter, cooler father figure to Buffy, greatly solidifying that bond.
            There are an abundance of Insides in this episode;  inside jokes, references and the like.  Willow being admitted to Wesleyan (Whedon’s alma mater);  the Gleaves crypt where Balthazar’s amulet is buried, Gleaves is Petrie’s wife’s maiden name;  Balthazar being thought of as a Blade rip-off (though Petrie admitting he’d never seen Blade and instead ripped-off Marvel’s The Kingpin);  The Mayor’s cleanliness obsession a friendly jab at Executive Producer David Greenwalt;  and it was while shooting this episode – the scene in which Angel charges in to save Giles and Wesley – that Greenwalt said, “Yeah, I think there’s a Series in him.”[iv] 
No doubt about it, this is a big episode.  Of course, I barely scratched its surface.  For me it’s really about Buffy and Faith, a very special relationship, of which this is just the beginning.  More specifically, this is Faith’s fall from grace.  So the questions linger.  How long will it be before she claws her way back up?  
Can she?

                                                                                 # # #

[i] This too is a larger topic for another article – and may very well be dealt with in The Body or The Gift or Seeing Red – but human death is an odd thing in The Buffyverse.  Demons are off’d left and right.  And we accept demons killing their fair share of humans (even if off-screen) but then some are singled out very particularly – Joyce, Ben, Tara – and then to the gravest effect.  (Certainly Joyce whose The Body may be the best episode of the series.)     
[ii] At least not until The Mayor showers her with the knife, apartment, Playstation and, in what may be the key moment in their relationship, the flowerly sundress in which -- quite fatherly -- he sees her prettier than she ever sees herself. 
[iii] Recalled in the Angel episode The Prodigal when Angel tells Kate Lockley, “People have a way of seeing what they need to.”  In terms of certain plausibilities, this is a key presumption we the audience buy-into in both series.
[iv] While Angel had been prepped since the end of Buffy Season 2, his exit at the end of Season 3 was still up in the air, and it’s apparently during the shooting of this episode that Whedon and Greenwalt officially decided to pull the trigger.  

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