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Willow Power

The Buffy rewatch continues with a couple of classics, and a future witch already at the top of her snarking powers.

I didn't make many notes during my latest run of Buffy episodes. That means I was mostly watching them, enjoying them. I had a few thoughts (and strenuous objections...Jason Behr), but primarily I just enjoyed the first appearances of touchstone characters (Oz, Jonathan, even Larry), and watching Giles getting to land a punch, and liking Willow. This stretch of eps, the lead-up to Angel's evilgasm and everything that it brings crashing down, is where Willow's the most consistently likable and speaks the most often for the audience; Alyson Hannigan hasn't gotten as tic-y with Willow's hesitantly cutesy way of speaking yet, and the character is transitioning out of obsessing over Xander and into finding her important place in the gang. (Her simultaneously impatient and frightened "this is fun" in "Halloween" is great.)

The lead-up I just mentioned is...sometimes tough to take. Never mind that Buffy has to have a speech per episode, minimum, about how she doesn't get to be a normal girl and do normal things -- when, in the season to date, she isn't facing anything like the mortal danger or emotional scarring she's going to find herself up against in just a few weeks -- but Angel's attraction to a young lady he has to tell repeatedly that he's "lived" a very long time and has better intel and a longer view than she does is a bit obscure at times. He talks at the end of "Halloween" about not caring about the court ladies of his era because they had nothing to say...but what does Buffy have to say, really, about anything besides slaying? What does she like, besides him and not doing her homework? The alterna-Buffy of "The Wish" is a PTSD hard-ass we're meant to pity, but she's the more credible reality of that life, isn't she -- a determined, flinchy killing machine who can't afford hobbies or friends? Buffy is a problematic heroine in ways the show doesn't seem to realize, starting with the fact that there isn't much there there. And what there is pouts a lot. Sure, she's 16 and into his scene, but the guy remembers the Civil War. She can barely pass a test on it.

That center doesn't hold as well as I'd hoped, I'm afraid; watching Buffy watch Angel and Dru and get the wrong idea, I said out loud, "Oh, this won't be annoying at all." Fortunately, almost everything around it is done so well that I don't mind too much yet.

Better Than I Remembered

"Inca Mummy Girl" It's still stupid, and the "special" effects I bemoaned the last time I watched it haven't improved with age, but what struck me most is what a pro Charisma Carpenter is when Cordelia's written by a one-off guy who defaults her to "dumb and mean." Sven's "is she even FROM this country" is a good line, but it points up how all over the place the writing of Cordelia can be. That I had time to ponder this is not a positive for the episode, during which the audience is several beats ahead of the Scoobs at all times, but it's not as terrible as I remembered. Xander's Twinkie clinic with Ampata is adorable. (Trivia alert! Rodney is played by Rectify's Clayne Crawford, who is just as spot-on in a similarly douchey role.)

"Halloween" One of the show's all-time greats, but I remembered getting kind of impatient for Giles et al. to figure the curse out -- when it actually happens pretty fast. The ongoing "Who IS that girl?" gag with Willow and Oz continues; Spike overhears that Buffy is defenseless thanks to Ethan's magical costuming, an added element of suspense I'd forgotten; there's just a ton going on at all times and it's a master class in pacing. Brendon and Hannigan both kill it in this episode. It's so smartly done and woven together, setting some Giles backstory in motion and moving the ball on Buffy and Angel's relationship. Some bum accent work from Gellar, but hardly the worst we'll hear.

"Lie To Me" Oh, Jason Behr. Ford is an interesting character, and the takedown of the romanticization of vampires is done with great empathy for people, particularly in high school, who latch onto a scene to feel like a part of something...anything. Behr, to put it as gently as I can, is not cast correctly and isn't up to what he's asked for in the last act when we learn he has a brain tumor, so the episode remains frustrating -- but it's another hilarious ep for Willow ("IT MAKES ME JUMPY!"), I still love that sight gag when Angel is busting on the wannabes' outfits and someone walks by wearing his exact same rig, and Ford's sidekick Diego's cheap Depression-era-magician outfit is brilliant. Parts of it aren't a great look for Buffy (braless OR jealous of Drusilla; not both), but: Jenny takes Giles to monster trucks, then returns him when he's needed, whereupon he has a nice moment with Buffy at Ford's grave. (Which already has a headstone, and is in Sunnydale why?)

The way Angel is written The parallels between Angel's situation and a recovering alcoholic with many years of sobriety are gentle, and not always exact, and it's what I like about them. His recitation of how he wronged and broke Drusilla is more affecting this time around; Boreanaz makes him sound exhausted.

Drusilla This isn't a genre of character I have much patience with, but once Dru starts showing some manipulative edge (i.e., guilt-sulking at Spike so he'll buy her a new bird), she's more interesting. And she makes Spike's story that much sadder when you realize she's much more interested in Angel than she'll ever be in Spike.

Worse Than I Remembered

"Reptile Boy" Cordelia's back in form here, but is directed terribly at the end, with the whimpering and the unconvincing "oh no"s and "they're going to EAT US?!"es. But she's still more bearable than Buffy, who's attired in what used to pass for "work-wear" in the Victoria's Secret catalog and embarked on a class-cutting pout-athon that isn't cute at all. At the time, this was a more nuanced take on rapey frat culture than we were used to; today, it only seems to take too long and generate little suspense. Hat tip to Willow's rant at Giles and Angel for yanking Buffy's chain (and to Xander's seamless reference to Angel as "that freak," followed immediately by a greeting of Angel when he appears over Xander's shoulder: "Hey man how ya doin'?"), but it's not enough.

The stunt...singles, I guess I ought to call them It is what it is given that Gellar and Boreanaz couldn't do their own stunts (or not all of them), but when they don't even try to match the hair, or the fight double is, like, an African-American...I mean, if you don't look too closely, it's not that bothersome, but 1) HD now exists and 2) once you start looking, you really can't stop.

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Part 4 of 18 in the series

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