03 May, 2011

The Great Buffy Rewatch: Consequences


                                      I won't give Ms. Noxon nearly enough credit in this Commentary, though she very much deserves it.  Suffice to say her great script drives the roller coaster.  While Bad Girls is the first rush down, Consequences is the first turn, the bare settling, the chug back up the track.  It’s a breather, but only a short one, giving us just enough time to comprehend what’s happened;  the resetting of a timebomb, threatening us with what we realize was there all along.  And we still have to face.

w Marti Noxon
d Michael Gershman

              Did you just come off reading my piece on Bad Girls?  Both episodes are really a two-parter, so let’s get right back into it.  Faith left us with, “I don’t care” so that’s where we’ll start.  (Oh those walls of hers!)  Faith herself doesn’t believe she doesn’t care, and Buffy knows it;  but, as Milton wrote some four hundred years ago, “Long is the way and hard that out of hell leads up to light.”  Buffy, as our hero, can’t shake what’s happened, as her dream personifies:  she’s drowning in it.  She knows how quickly Faith is falling;  more importantly, were those the walls she herself built, how quickly she’d be dragged down with her.
As I began the Zeppo Commentary with how much I love What If episodes, the last half of Season 3 is something of a big What If, isn’t it?
What if The Slayer was bad?
As Bad Girls gave us the setup, Consequences is the payoff.  And it’s a dark one.  Not just for Faith (natch) but for Buffy too.  Because Faith is the personification of Buffy’s Dark Side.  So, really, we’re getting to see the shadow.
Magnifying that idea specifically, there are two big scenes in this episode.  For nearly three seasons, we’ve had glimpses of it -- certainly Slayer Vs Buffy-As-Normal-Girl, but also Slayer Vs Slayer (the latter as far back as When She Was Bad) -- but now that Buffy’s inner demons are personified in Faith, we get to hear those thoughts.  The first big is in the street –

Buffy. I'm not going to "see" anything... I missed the mark
last night. And I'm sorry about the guy, really. But it happens.
Anyway - how many people do you think we've saved by
now? Thousands? And didn't you stop the world from ending?
In my book, that puts you and me firmly in the plus column.

We help people. That doesn't mean we can do whatever we want -

Why not? This guy I off’d was no Ghandi. We just saw he was
mixed up in dirty dealing.

Maybe. But what if he was coming to us for help?

What if he was? You're still not looking at the big picture, B.
Something made us different. We're warriors. We were built
to kill -

To kill demons. But we don't get to pass judgement on people,
like we're better than everybody else-

We are better.
(this stops Buffy)
That's right. Better. People need us to survive. In the balance?
Nobody's gonna cry over some random bystander who got caught
in the crossfire.

Buffy looks stricken. Finally-

I am.

Faith just looks at her. Shakes her head.

Your loss.

This is key because most likely Buffy has had this exact … if not conversation with herself, the thought has to have crossed her mind.[i]  It’s first personified in Bad Girls' “Want Take Have” then magnified here.  Indeed, Buffy and Faith are "better," in a sense:  stronger, faster.  The difference, of course, is Buffy chooses to use her powers to help people. 
The second big is on the docks at the end.

What bugs you is you know I'm right. You know in your gut.
We don't need the law. We are the law.


Faith moves in closer. Sees that she's getting to her.

Yes. You know exactly what I'm about. Because you have it
in you, too.

No. You're sick, Faith.

I've seen it, B. You've got the lust. And I'm not just talking about
screwing vampires -

Don't bring him into this.

It was good, wasn't it? The sex? The danger? Bet a part of you
even dug him when he went psycho -

No -

See, you need me to tow the line because you're afraid you'll go
over it, aren't you, B? You can't handle watching me living my
own way and having a blast because it tempts you. You know it
could be you-

That's it. Something snaps in Buffy. She rears back and POPS Faith a good one. Faith falls back, but she's smiling as she puts a hand to her bleeding mouth.

There's my girl...

Nail on the head.
Because Faith has a point.  This is what every Slayer must fight internally.  And now these inner demons are personified in Faith.  Though, interestingly, Buffy hits first.  Pushed to it, sure, but “her own way,” as Faith taunts her, pushes back.  And can you blame her?  They’ve been verbally dueling a while now, so one of them was bound to take it to the next level.  But that it’s Buffy who first resorts to the physical?  Well, even Luke in Jedi, hearing Vader will go after Leia, loses it.  And, dear readers, don’t ever get between Buffy and Angel.  I wrote a Spec for Smallville many years ago (that show’s Season 2) where Clark and Random Bad Guy are facing off and Random Bad asks him, “Everything you can do and you choose to help these people?  Why?!”  And Clark says, “Because I can.”  Indeed:  Buffy can.  And, no matter what she might be going through, no matter what she might have to give up, consistently chooses to.
But is Faith truly lost?
For me, there are three key moments where Faith’s conscience kicks in, and she, however fleetingly, allows a crack in the wall.  The first, and I think most significant, is in Bad Girls where, after killing The Deputy Mayor, she returns to the scene to view it, let it sink in.  (This is probably the turning point, where she decides to let the walls build.)  The second is in this episode when she and Buffy are snooping around The Mayor’s office and there’s this –


A shot of the Deputy Mayor with the Mayor at on official function of some kind.  The Deputy Mayor is smiling, proud.

                                    He came out of nowhere.

                                    I know.

At this Faith’s eyes go cold and she returns to the search.

                                    Whatever.  I’m not looking to hug and cry and learn and grow.
                                    I’m just saying it went down quick, is all.

Buffy, a little stung, decides to let it go.

More letting it sink in – and no pun intended considering how our episode began – it’s what I was saying about Faith choosing to go down this path.  Even here, Buffy doesn’t gloat or pry or do anything but agree with her.  And Faith knows it.  Catches herself and – “shields up!” – can’t buy that there’s any way out besides that which her past allows:  no-mother, no-Giles, no-friends. 
The third, and fairly most obvious moment is in the end fight where Trick is about to dine on Buffy and Faith stakes him, saving her.  Faith could have escaped, let it happen – we see her pause – but instead she chooses to do the right thing and save our hero.  There is an episode coming up named – I’m just naming it here, that’s not a spoiler, right? – Choices.  I often thought that one of this two-parter should be called that, given how many happen in them.  But there are certainly consequences to be faced, and fair enough.
The biggest of which (sigh) is Willow.  I’ve often said that no two actresses working today cry better than Gillian Anderson and Alyson Hannigan.  Our dear Willow has had to cry so many times in seven seasons, but one of the real hit-homes is in this episode, when she hears of Xander having sex with – losing his virginity to – Faith (and this, remember, two episodes later).  It’s setup by a comical moment, the double “Oh” between Buffy and Giles, as they realize what’s happened, undercut by the solemn, “I don’t need to say it” Willow gives;  she having realized it first.  And then the cut-to her crying in the bathroom.  Ugh.  Did I mention the sigh? [ii]
The other big consequence is, after the same significant scene, the simple cut-to Xander laying on the stairs of the library thinking about what’s happened.  Not that he’s slept with Faith, not that he’s lost his virginity, but that Willow now knows, two episodes (how long in episode time?) later.  They talk every night, so two weeks?  Willow, his best friend since they were six, who he knows has been in love with him for as long (pre Oz), who he knows must have cried after hearing the news.  Once again, with as big a switch-up as Whedon & Co throw at us with turning Faith, and the consequences that births, it’s the simple everyday relationship issues that hit home the hardest.  
                     And work the best. 
                     I mentioned the sigh, right?
As remiss as I would have been not to mention Wesley’s introduction in Bad Girls, I have to mention his key moment in this episode.  Upon learning of Faith’s indiscretion, he takes it upon himself to SWAT Team her back to The Council.[iii]  Whereas so far in these two episodes we’ve only seen him as the brainy bumbler, this gives him a moment of substance, some grounding to believe that there’s more to him than just the comedy.  As well rounded as all the characters are in the Whedonverse, so indeed is Our New Watcher.[iv]
And last but not least, from a production standpoint, I have to mention the great Michael Gershman who directed this episode.  This is his second Directed By episode – after Season 2’s Passion (another Best Of The Series) and we’ll see him direct next on Season 4’s A New Man – and I think he does a wonderful job.  You know his name as he’s been Buffy’s Cinematographer (and will be for eighty-some episodes);  and, as Mr. Pateman pointed out so well in his first Commentary of our Great Buffy Rewatch, successfully helped establish the look of the show. 
Couple of things, if I may.
First, I found it interesting in Gershman’s DVD Commentary of this episode that there were never storyboards for the show.  An aside, really, but I found it interesting. 
                       Secondly, please note the three long camera moves in this ep:  through the crime scene to Angel looking on;  following Angel out of the mansion into the courtyard to see Buffy;  and off Giles’ office to Wesley listening in.  Why significant?  Because most decisions made on any TV Show have something to do with time.  The less time spent on something generally means less money spent (all the way to the Network Cut of a show, as they want to cram as much Advertising in as possible).  For a myriad of reasons for another longer article, you just don’t see long shots like this in a TV Show;  one of the reasons being how long it takes to light enough Set for that long a shot.  But as Gershman was the Cinematographer on the show – knew the sets and what it took to light them – he could plan-for and get-away-with them as Director.  Again, perhaps an aside, but I find it interesting.
As Ms. Stuller wrote so well in the Season 1 Prophecy Girl Commentary about The Hero’s Journey:  redemption resolves.  Unfortunately, as we see in this episode’s final scene, Faith chooses to continue down the dark path, turning herself over to The Mayor;  not in any heroic sacrifice, but, in a sense, turning over her very soul.  Does she really feel that alone?  Are her walls that fully built?  The roller coaster rushes on, redemption left to wait, as it seems Milton’s hard way into light is indeed still a long one before us all.

                                                                                 # # #

[i] Not to mention, um, “Death is your gift,” anyone?
[ii]  There's a similar --  and just as powerful --  moment for Inara in the Firefly episode Heart Of Gold.
[iii] Foreshadowing the Council “Wetworks” Team in Season 4’s Who Are You?
[iv] I know I mentioned this before, but oh the arc he’ll continue on, in the remaining episodes of this season and especially Angel.  I wonder how long Whedon & Co initially planned to keep him around, considering he’s gone from Sunnydale in Season 4 and doesn’t show up in L.A. (on Angel) until that show’s tenth episode, Parting Gifts.  In any event, I’m glad he returns, because he is our dear Wesley.

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