UNLUCKY SEVEN:

Buffy Lives! Her Series Dies! And why I regard it as a mercy killing...

Ding, dong, the Slayer’s dead. Actually, the only Slayer who died in the Series Finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as far as I could tell, was the plucky Amanda, doubtless cast specifically to be the token non-hot Potential Slayer. I was sad Amanda died at first, because her character on the show was indeed plucky. But then I remembered that the actress played a really irritating Born Again on Freaks n’ Geeks, so now I’m not sad any more.

Nor am I sad that Buffy the Vampire Slayer has taken its last curtain call… at least, until 2020 or so, when the child actress currently playing the annoying little brat on 7th Heaven dyes her hair blonde and plays Buffy in a big screen 4-D brain implant cyber-movie adaptation of the much beloved, eternally rerun on cable nostalgia-craze TV series. In fact, I’m glad to see the back of Buffy. The show has been so bad for two solid years now, the producers had only two choices: hire me to make it work again, or just let it die. And let’s face it, the first one wasn’t an option, because my world just doesn’t work like that.

The first draft of this was written a few months ago, at a point where I decided that I didn’t need to see the last 10 or so episodes of Season 7 to write it off as a loser. I decided that there had been so much plot stupidity and continuity laziness from one ep to the other at that point that there was simply no way the season could be salvaged. And now that I’ve seen the rest of the season, it’s sad to realize that I was absolutely right.

Let’s take a look back a few months at what had caused me to conclude that the season was a write off as early as February… and I’ll probably add a few more current notes as we go.

I held on to the last, fluttering, scorched and blackened, tattered remnant of hope for this season for a long, long time, but now I can see I may as well have not bothered. There had been too many really wretched episodes, too much plot stupidity, too many utterly banal and completely idiotic elements thrown into the overall story arc, even a few months back. And nothing got better. As the series progressed, if anything, things got steadily worse… Spike, for example, the one character you just wouldn’t have believed could have possibly gotten more stupid, was given a flashback episode in which we were shown that he was the only vampire in the history of the universe who was transformed into a bloodsucking soulless night fiend… and yet still loved his mother.

It’s over. But it was over in February. Hell, it was most likely over late in the fifth season, when UPN swiped Buffy from the WB, and Whedon apparently changed what could have been the most brilliant storyline he’d ever done in order to wind it up with a seeming series finale for his original network in which Buffy died.

Yeah, the franchise most likely died right along with the Slayer then. It certainly never got is creative chops back afterwards. Season 6 was a long, horrible, unending creative embarrassment that the vast majority of Buffy fans hated watching and flinch when they have to remember any of it. Season 7… seemed to start out better, yes. But in the end, it’s all been just Cheyne-Stokes respiration. This show had been dead for a while now.

And yet I kept watching. I made myself watch Season 6 (although I haven’t been able to get all the way through my videotapes of those episodes again; it’s just too painfully horrible to watch all that crap even once, much less more than once.) And I’ve watched Season 7, with a growing sense of appalled numbness at its steadily increasing awfulness. It's like a train wreck... you hate it and it's gruesome and you wish to God you had the power to do something, anything, to get the train back on the tracks where it belongs... but regardless of how grisly the whole thing is, you just can't take your eyes off it.

Last year around this time I was praying the next season would be better, and to tell the truth, this one was... but this is obviously a lesson in me to be careful what I wish for. I should have prayed for the season to be good, and intelligent, and well written, and worth watching... like, you know, a Buffy the Vampire Slayer season is supposed to be.

The seventh season got off to a reasonably hopeful start. It actually had two or three episodes in a row, as best I can recollect, that you could tape and watch again without wincing. This may not seem like much praise for a show whose first three seasons I have on DVD and whose quality level at that point was so high I could pretty much throw any disc from those seasons into my player at random and enjoy any episode that appeared on my TV screen. However, after the brain numbing awfulness of Season 6, in which so many episodes are simply so abysmally abominable that I can't bring myself to watch them again no matter how hard I try, having Season 7 commence with two or three solidly good eps... or, at least, solidly non-objectionable eps... was certainly a step up.

There were some misfires. Willow's return, for example, was painfully badly plotted, and the first real sign that things weren’t really better, or at least, that they weren’t going to continue getting better, and certainly weren’t going to stay even as mediocre as they had been. The whole concept of this episode: “say, after people have been waiting for several months for Willow to be reunited with her friends, we'll do a plot where she gets back home and she can't see any of her friends, and they can't see her” seemed to take the idea of teasing your audience beyond the usual level of borderline cruelty normal to TV and carry it well into the realm of simple stupid brutality. Throwing in a flesh eating ghoul who looked a lot like a badly made up version of Gollum, right around the time that much anticipated Tolkien character was due to make his CGI animated debut on the big screen, didn't help at all, since nobody troubled themselves to work out anything like a clever plotline revolving around that particular monster of the week. What we were left with was the unpalatable notion that Willow can, apparently without even being consciously aware of it, cast an invisibility spell so complete that in point of fact, not only can she not be seen by the people it affects, she also can't be heard or touched or in any way perceived... a fact made unpleasantly clear when at one point, Anya pointed out that Xander was actually 'standing in' Willow's wounded, reclining form.

This was a bad episode, there can be no doubt, but previous seasons of Buffy had had the occasional bad episode and survived them... can anyone out there say 'caveman beer'? And the season seemed to bounce back immediately, with the inception of what promised to be a fascinating overall story arc, as Buffy and crew were brought almost immediately into direct conflict with the chillingly depicted manipulations of the First Evil.

For a few episodes, the show seemed back on track. The First was a truly creepy villain, and once it managed to blow up the Watchers' Council over in England, seemed like the most formidable force Buffy would ever face. (Blowing up the Watchers also neatly removed the unanswered questions from the previous season as to why the Council had not assigned a new Watcher for Buffy, to take over from Giles, once Giles quit and left for Britain... yet another stupid oversight lost in the rumbling avalanche of even dumber mistakes and truly wretchedly awful plot contrivances and character miscarriages that most of us just call, for short, 'season 6'. )

Jonathan and Andrew came back, and we saw the First easily manipulate the rather gullible Andrew into brutally murdering the hapless Jonathan on top of a creepy looking metal pentagram buried beneath the new high school, right over the Hellmouth itself.

And it was right at this point that, apparently, all the writers on Buffy this season went out and got lobotomies, because starting with the episode following Jonathan's brutal murder, the whole franchise just jumped on the Dumb & Dumber Express and it's been there ever since.

Let's just take a look, briefly, at all the really really stupid ideas that we've had thrown at us since that point:

  • Soul man.

    Spike has a soul now. Okay, this one was tossed at us at the end of last season, where it was a stupid idea, and it's stayed a stupid idea all through this one. There are a lot of reasons it's a stupid idea, but the most prevalent one is that basically, it has simply turned Spike into a cheap second rate copy of Angel, and just to make certain we understand he's just a cheap second rate copy of Angel, the writers have obligingly been re-running a lot of plotlines we previously saw with Angel, slightly reworked for Spike.

    It also cheapens Angel's stature as the only vampire in history who has ever regained his soul, and beyond that, the whole notion of Buffy and Spike being romantically involved is a disgusting and grotesque abomination, very nearly as bad as the entire misguided romance between Xander and Anya, which despite that last having been over for nearly a year, Anya still won't just frickin' leave, for God's sake.

    Yes, all right, I admit it, my distaste for Buffy shagging Spike, and my distaste for Anya herself, could arguably be dismissed as simply my subjective responses, since a lot of other people love Buffy and Spike together, and think Anya is just great. However, it can't be denied... Spike getting his soul back has simply turned him into a bad Xerox of Angel, and it's been handled both stupidly and unoriginally, as well.

    Since I wrote the first version of this, as noted in the opening paragraphs, Spike has (unbelievable though the concept is) actually become an even stupider character. I guess the writers felt they might as well make him just as idiotic as they possibly could, because, what the hell, he was gonna die in the end anyway. Spike’s heroic (if nonsensical and absurd) sacrifice may have redeemed his evil deeds, but it didn’t do anything to redeem what an obnoxiously pointless and idiotic character he’s been since about the middle of the 4th Season.

  • The thing that wouldn't leave.

    Anya is still around. And we must ask, why? She has no emotional ties that should really make her want to stick around Sunnydale, and even after she became a vengeance demon again, why not move elsewhere? To another dimension, even? All of the writers on Buffy gush endlessly in their commentary tracks on old episodes about how fascinated they became with the character of Anya, a thousand year old demon who suddenly found herself trapped as a teenager in Sunnydale when her powers were destroyed, but my God, they should have taken the opportunity to get rid of her they had when they broke up her wedding, because that 'demon trapped as a teenager' thing has always been a really really stupid idea and every time they focus on Anya for an episode, it gets stupider.

    Riddle me this, Boy Wonder: Prior to working for Giles, what did she do for money? Where did she live? Didn't the staff at Sunnydale High ever notice she didn't have any parents? Why would she bother to stick around taking classes? Where did she live when she was working for Giles? How is she paying rent on her apartment since she stopped being a vengeance demon again? Why won't the bitch just leave?

    Obviously, she and Xander continue to have a romantic/emotional connection, but it's just as obvious that the writers don't want to just let them get back together again without having a clue what to do with the relationship that they haven't done before. Meanwhile, she can't date anyone because the writers are trying to keep her available for Xander, and he can't date anyone for the corresponding reason, and it's just frickin' aggravating. Note to Xander and Anya: It's been a year. GET OVER IT.

    And, again, now that the season is over: the painful revelation that Anya is ‘an ex demon who loves humans’ had me torn. Should I roll on the floor in uncontrolled hysterics, laughing myself into a hiccuping stupor at the sheer deranged stupidity of this? Vomit explosively all over my TV screen? Or simply take a long and satisfying whiz into a 2 liter bottle of Mountain Dew and then mail it to Joss Whedon as a gift from a devoted fan?

    In the end, I just stared at the TV in appalled horror and then dismissed it as more Anya-nonsense. But honestly. ‘The ex-demon who loves humanity’? Quick, let me hit myself in the head with this hammer until that starts making sense to me.

  • Ooh, chocolately futility.

    Which is to say, Xander has never been more consistently useless than he has been this season. Look, I'm aware, as a writer myself, that Xander is the geek projection character, the single powerless guy who is the entry point for all us powerless males out here in the audience... the one that we empathize with, and who is our surrogate in the world of Buffy, and therefore, like Rick Jones in the Marvel Universe, he can never, never, never be allowed to get super powers (like everyone else) or even do much of anything really cool (at least, very often). But on occasion in the past, Xander has gotten the occasional bone tossed his way... he saved the entire high school from being blown up by insane drunken zombies once, he got laid by Faith (so far, the only non-Demon female he's managed to get horizontal with, although, come to think of it, I believe Faith and Anya are pretty much the entire extent of Xander's sexual experiences to date), and they once did an entire episode showing that, in fact, Xander was really a pretty cool and competent guy, it's just that most of the time, people didn't notice it (the 'twins' episode). But this season, Xander's just been kind of hanging around in the background occasionally tossing out lines of dialogue and otherwise not doing a goddam thing except get trussed up by a demon. (If you're waiting for me to mention that Xander saved the world from Dark Willow at the end of the sixth season, go fish. That entire episode was simply moronic from start to finish and we mention it as little as possible here, thank you very much.)

    Look, I know this isn't The Xander Harris Show, but, nonetheless, if you can't think of anything to do with a character, fire the actor and write in someone more interesting. Better yet, hire some writers who can, you know, write. That would include coming up with interesting storylines for all the regular characters.

    In fact, I'm pretty sure it would include coming up with interesting storylines for any of the regular characters, but that's a different little bullet point.

    And now, having gotten to the end of the season and the series, having listened to Dawn whimper about how Xander’s super power must be ‘seeing’ and ‘knowing’ (Lord, how Xander must just hate statutory rape laws when Dawn is giving him that earnest ‘oh PLEASE take my virginity Xander’ look), having watched as moronic supervillain Caleb stuck his thumb right into Xander’s eye in what had to be one of the grossest moments on non-cable TV ever, and having read some brief interview snippet with Joss Whedon in which it was revealed that Xander was in fact Whedon’s surrogate character in the show, rather than a geek surrogate craftily placed there as an emotional touchstone for all us male nerds in the audience… well… I still say Xander was absolutely useless this season, and to add the worst possible insult to his grievous series of injuries, they had to let him go out after playing D&D with Andrew. Holy Mother of God, the poor man must have prayed for death, only to be denied.

  • Tah tah tah tah tah touch me... I want to be dirrrrrty...

    Giles, apparently, isn't the First after all. This is a recent gratuitous plot stupidity, and it's a truly aggravating one, because it shows that Whedon and his crew of writers & producers will simply have no mercy about dicking around their audience for weeks on end, nor do they have any sense of realistic proportion about doing so, either.

    Let's be blunt: the writers on Buffy knew goddamned well that the minute Giles showed up with several potentials in tow, and was ostentatiously not touching anything or anyone, we out here in the audience were going to suspect 'he' was really a projection of the First, showing up to infiltrate and subtly misguide the Slayer's efforts and opposition to the its own machinations. And they also knew we'd be watching Giles like a hawk every time he appeared on screen for so much as a second, to see if he would actually touch anyone or pick up and manipulate any solid, corporeal object. And in nearly half a dozen episodes, Giles touched no one and nothing, and in fact, the writers made certain we saw that he was quite subtly avoiding touching anyone or anything, by showing him repeatedly requesting various other characters to fetch and carry various things.

    Now, in any house I've ever lived in, any of those requests, from a guy just standing around in the middle of the room doing not a goddamned thing at the moment, would have been met with a rousing "what are you, crippled, get up and get the fucking thing yourself, you limey twit", but nooooooo, at Buffy's house, if Giles the possible astral projection of ancient evil wants someone to fetch him a notebook and carry it off somewhere else, well, by God, you people better move with a purpose.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but this was ridiculous either way you sliced it. If Giles had turned out to be the First, then we would have been supposed to swallow the notion that in several weeks of living at close quarters in an overcrowded house swarming with teenage girls, as well as quite a few folks who were very fond of Giles and a couple of Summerses who think of him as a surrogate father, nobody touched him at all, or even passed close enough to him to bump into him, had he been solid. Even better, a household full of people who know damned well that the First loves to infiltrate them never once realized that Giles simply hadn't touched anything or anyone since he'd arrived.

    And on that subject, once whatshername, the potential with the Southern accent, turned out to be the First in disguise, you'd think that from that point on, every single person living in Buffy's house would get hugged or at least patted firmly, whether they like it or not, whenever they went out and came back in again.

    Back to Giles, however... since finally the light dawned on the Idiot Brigade and they went trundling off into the middle of the desert to see if Giles really was the First or not, and discovered he was quite solid by gang tackling him, we're now simply supposed to accept that, by sheer coincidence, Giles didn't actually touch anything or anyone at all, in several weeks of living in those overcrowded conditions, or at least, he didn't do so in any way or at any point that Anya, Xander, Dawn, or Andrew could remember, when they put their minds to it. And all those occasions when the writers made damned good and sure we suspicious members of the audience saw Giles ostentatiously not touching something... wellllllll... that was just, y'know, coincidence.

    It's stupid, and worse, it's unacceptably, obnoxiously, rudely, tauntingly stupid. It's stupid on a level of 'ha ha, we know you were watching us really carefully to see if Giles would touch anything, and we fucked with you for weeks, and now it turns out he's not the First after all, na na na boo boo'.

    It is, bluntly, a betrayal of the covenant between audience and creators; we have to trust them to play fair, not jerk us around and set up impossible situations simply to make us think one thing without actually confirming it one way or another.

    There's still some vague hope; it's possible Giles is really the First, and the First has somehow found some way to manifest itself, at least, briefly, in corporeal form. And if that turns out to be true, it will make up for a lot. But right now, as things stand, this is simply obnoxiously stupid.

    And as everyone knows now, Giles did not turn out to be the first. Yes, yes, yes… the axe that we saw stop a quarter of an inch from Giles’ head the first time, a sequence which was re-edited to allow Giles to more plausibly block later… and all that crap with people simply, by sheer coincidence, coming into no physical contact with Giles over the course of many days in a small and overcrowded house… all that was real and true and valid. It really was Giles, and… dear Lord… that real, true Giles was playing D&D with Xander and Andrew. Thank God this show is cancelled, I could never have looked at Giles the same way again.

    What’s interesting is how quickly people forget. When I wrote this, the whole ‘is Giles the First or not’ controversy was raging strongly in Buffy fandom, and most people seemed to agree that if Giles wasn’t the first, that was truly abysmally bad writing. However, since then, this seems to have been pretty much forgotten. Well, other than by me.

  • Do as I scream, not as I do.

    Buffy is all over the place, morally and ethically. Just an episode ago, she told Giles very vehemently that "You don't fight evil by doing evil". Of course, this was when she was trying to rationalize the admittedly unjustifiable decision to remove Spike's behavior control chip. "When Spike had that chip, it was like having him in a muzzle," Buffy opined self righteously. "It was just wrong." One need only cast one's mind back to the delighted glee with which Buffy or any of her friends greeted the bolt of sheer anguish that would shudder through Spike's brain the instant he tried to take violent action against any of them to think, 'gee, Buffy, take a pill, you two faced bimbo'. Leaving aside this sudden and convenient change of heart for her newfound hunnybuns, it doesn't take much in the way of brain power to reflect that when one has a rabid dog lying around that, for some insane reason, one doesn't want to kill (as Buffy and her friends forebore from killing Spike for the entire fourth and fifth seasons when he had the chip, but was still demonstrably murderous), a muzzle is quite a sensible option, and not even remotely 'wrong' or 'evil'.

    Yet let's compound this writers' incompetence even further, as we see that Buffy's hypocrisy simply has no end in sight. "You can't fight evil by doing evil" is all well and good when it comes to winning arguments with Giles, but Buffy certainly doesn't mind emotionally brutalizing a roomful of potential Slayers in mourning for one of their own, nor does it bother her to set up a boot camp and put another of the potentials in charge, implicitly allowing that potential to heap verbal abuse on any of the other girls who piss her off... said verbal abuse which leads directly to the suicide that the remaining girls were mourning, when Buffy burst in and started resoundingly cursing everyone within earshot out, for the grievous sin of not being able to fight something that, well, nobody could possibly fight.

    Further undermining Buffy's 'everybody sucks but me' speech (to borrow Anya's pungent phraseology) is the fact that, in the end, when push comes to shove, and Buffy is given the opportunity to get more power and possibly be able to be more effective against the First, she passes, because she's squeamish about the source. So, everyone else has to 'do what can't be done', but Buffy herself can cry like a little wussy girl when faced with an opportunity to actually accomplish something meaningful, albeit, admittedly, with some personal sacrifice on her part.

    This isn't a minor thing. Up until this very episode, Buffy has been the steady and reliable moral center for her group. There have been times when she has been inexplicably rather ruthless and amoral in her behavior, as during the episode when she became invisible and exploited that condition to emotionally and psychologically terrorize a social services worker who had annoyed her, most likely costing the poor women her job if not her actual sanity, an event that has never been mentioned since and for which Buffy has never displayed the slightest remorse, or even awareness that what she did was wrong.

    But prior to this, Buffy's bravery and will to do the right thing no matter what has never been called into question and in the end, she's always had the courage of her own convictions. Now, not only are her convictions all over the place - you don't fight evil by doing evil, unless, of course, you have to verbally bully and emotionally abuse a bunch of teenage girls to get what you want, in which case, that's just fine - but when it comes right down to it, everybody else has to do things they really hate doing, except for Buffy, who gives herself a free pass from doing something she doesn't want to because she thinks being fused with the essence of a demon to increase her own powers is really kind of ickie.

    And let's bear in mind, Buffy was perfectly aware when she jumped through that ridiculously convenient portal that Willow was going to have to do stuff she really didn't want to do, i.e., major magicks, in order to bring her back again. One assumes she was also aware that she was, by simply blithely leaping through an unknown doorway to an unknown destination, putting all her friends and dependents in mortal danger... danger which, as it turned out, was even more mortal than simply being unprotected from the renewed hostilities of the First, when a big ass, hostile, really ugly demon appeared in her place.

    Which is a great cue for next on our hit parade of stupid story elements introduced in the 7th Season:

  • Again? But that trick never works!

    Or, Moronic Magic Devices:

    Magic has always been dealt with inconsistently and really idiotically in the Buffy universe, and, well, that's just how it's going to be. It's never been anything but a plot device, and it's obvious that the writers and producers simply don't care whether the various applications and definitions of magic that we've seen over the course of seven seasons of Buffy and four seasons of Angel make any sense at all or not. Probably the silliest re-definition of magic we've seen began in the fifth season, when the various writings in piles of magical texts were treated as some sort of metaphysical equivalent of high octane fuel by Willow, who somehow absorbed all the runes and letters in the books, got all black-pupiled, and then promptly went off and unleashed a barrage of super-powered special effects on Glory (who, it should be noted, barely even blinked).

    This particularly stupid mistreatment of the very concept of magical power continued through the sixth season, where Willow and Amy and some evil ugly warlock sort kept constantly draining various magical sources in order to temporarily increase their own power levels, or simply to get high as a kite, like Ned Flanders on goofballs. Exactly what this bizarre sorcerous energy they were all tapping into and sharing back and forth with each other like addicts handing around a needle was I couldn't tell you, and I'm sure the writers on Buffy have no clear concept, either, but this model of magic as being some sort of mutant super-power/junk food/rocket fuel proved convenient when Willow went bananas at the end of the sixth season and needed to start draining every source of magical energy in the hemisphere, including not only all the remaining texts in the Magic Shoppe, but later on, all the magics that Giles had been conveniently topped up with by some witches coven off in Britain that we'd never heard of before, and a bit later than that, the deep wells of magical power residing within the Earth itself, when she decided to blow up the entire planet by, somehow, bombarding an ancient evil icon with purple energy bolts for a while.

    I bring this up simply to point out that magic, and magical devices, in the Buffy Universe, have always been pretty goddam stupid, so it's not like this is anything startling or innovative. Yet even the astoundingly powerful spell that novice wizard-nerd Jonathan once cast, to change the entire world into a continuum where he himself was a universally beloved superstar, pales in its nonsensical absurdity compared to the two magical devices introduced so far in the seventh season, namely, the Big Satanic Looking Pentagram Thingie That Spits Out Really Ugly Ass Neanderthal Vampires When Spike Bleeds On it, and the Shadow Casting Merry Go Round That Makes a Big Stupid Portal For The Slayer To Jump Through.

    Let's deal with the first moronic magical device, well, first: there is so much wrong with this entire idea. For one thing, let's just look at the essential stupidity of it. Magical artifacts don't just happen, folks. Assuming they actually existed, they would do so because someone took the time and spent the energy and resources to create them, and as a general rule, people only take time and spend energy and resources to create artifacts if those artifacts will somehow help those people accomplish something worthwhile.

    Here we have a big ass pentagram thing, elaborately sculpted into evil, Satanic looking patterns, made out of some kind of silvery, expensive looking metal. What does it do? Well, when you spill a whole lot of blood on it, it opens up like some weird trap door from a Hovito temple and spits out a Turlikon, which is to say, a 'vampire that other vampires fear' (another mind boggling stupidity that we'll get to, down below).

    The question "why the FUCK would someone make something that does this" does not so much leap to mind as it does bury itself in one's brain at supersonic velocity. I mean, clearly, this isn't something that would be created by, you know, humans, because most humans, if they sacrifice someone in order to do something magical, don't really want this uncontrollable, vastly powerful, nearly unkillable Uber-vampire to show up and start ripping their heads off.

    Now, on the other hand, if turlikons are the 'vampires that vampires fear', then we can assume that vampires didn't make this goddam thing, and, most likely, there aren't many demon races that would want to summon up a voracious unstoppable really yucky looking killing machine, either.

    However, since the First was having its minions use the damned thing, we can assume that the First (or its minions) built the damned thing, probably at enormous expense in terms of their time, effort, and mineral resources. Now, if you're going to have your minions go to all that trouble to build a magical device, exactly what in the name of God would you have to be thinking, to have them build THIS one? I mean, sure, sacrificing helpless humans in order to activate it, that's evil, we can see that (although it sure seems like an awfully clumsy activation button; they don't have on/off switches?), but if you're going to build something this obviously evil and powerful, why would you want to make something that doesn't do anything except spit out ugly, stupid monsters? I mean, how is that subtle? How is that cool? How does that help?

    And please bear in mind here, I'm not being picky. The First has a worldwide network of probably thousands of fanatically devoted corporeal followers who show up wherever it directs them to show up, with great big knives, to slaughter anyone it sends them after with enormous enthusiasm. The First doesn't need a star bellied vampire machine; if It runs into something that's too tough for half a dozen Bringers to slice and dice, well, kill all you want, the First will make more. A turlikon might get the job done a little more efficiently, but it's not like the First is going to run out of quick little blind soldier guys any time soon; if Buffy and her buddies can take a dozen of them, next time send two dozen. Or two hundred. Hell, the First wouldn't be having all these problems if it had just sent one sneaky Bringer around to Buffy's house in the middle of the night several episodes ago with a five gallon can of gasoline and a lighter.

    Now, what the First could really use is an interface that takes all that blood/life force someone pours onto it and uses it to somehow, temporarily, maybe, make a material body for the First, so it can go charging around kicking ass, or just, you know, convincing folks that it really is Giles, if they get suspicious and gang tackle it. But, you see, that would be too sensible. The First would much rather have a big stupid metal pentagram that turns blood into big ugly vampire things. Riiiiiight.

    And let's stay on the Big Stupid Metal Pentagram for a few more moments, too. What else do we know about this thing? Well, we know that if you take a short guy and sacrifice him right on top of it and he bleeds all over it, that still won't be enough blood to activate it, but a whole lot of pig's blood (according to the First) just might be, and actually, the blood inside a vampire (which shouldn't really have any blood inside it, because it's, you know, dead) turns out to be just the ticket.

    And please, don't even get me started on how convenient it is, that this Big Stupid Metal Pentagram was just deep enough in the ground that Xander's construction crew didn't dig it up, but not so deep that Jonathan and Andrew couldn't find it in a half hour's spade work. And let's not even ask how it got down there in the first place; that would be just a little too picky.

    And since writing all this, we’ve since found out that in fact, the Pentagram apparently has a very simple purpose… it’s a gateway to the Hellmouth, which we’ve always been told is a gateway to some demon dimension, and apparently, this demon dimension is just full of turlikons constantly whaling on each other with swords and scythes and axes and stuff. This makes slightly more sense in terms of it spitting out a turlikon whenever someone opens it up briefly, or somehow letting through hellish energies that transform human high school students into Bringers. But that Hell is a place full of turlikons perpetually at war with each other… this is just stupid. Sorry, but it is.

    Now, moving on to the Shadow Casting Merry Go Round That Makes An Idiotic Portal... actually, I have no problem with this in concept. Slayers having a one use, ancient, magical artifact that they pass down from one to the other, only to be used in case of utmost emergency, that will let them get in touch with the souls of the primal shamans who created the First Slayer so they can get a boost of power if they really badly need it... that's not a bad idea. The fact that no Slayer has used it up yet is kind of silly, but never mind, maybe it can be used over and over again, or something, just only once per Slayer. It's not at all a bad idea, and I'll even politely ignore how moronic it is that Robin was raised and trained by his mother's Watcher, but said Watcher didn't insist that the one of a kind magical emergency box get returned to the Council and passed on to the next Slayer. No, I'll give Whedon and crew a free pass on that, because I'm a swell guy, and there's something much stupider coming...

    'the exchange'.

    Oh, now, what the hell were they thinking here... we'll create a portal the Slayer can jump through, but when she does, this great big, ass kicking, mean as hell demon appears in her place and starts beating the snot out of everyone immediately at hand?

    As I asked with the Big Stupid Metal Pentagram: why would you make something that does this? How does this help?

    Obviously, the 'exchange' was tossed in, in order to give the rest of the cast something to do while Buffy was off not actually doing anything except whining a lot on another plane of reality. But, folks, I should not have to tell you... simply tossing something in so that your other characters have something to keep them busy, which makes no actual sense if you stop for a second and think about it, is not good writing. It is, in fact, what we professional author types refer to with the technical term 'really fucking lousy writing'.

    Since this time, the creators have added a few other Stupid Magic Items to the pile:

  • The Slayer’s Scythe – created by a secret cartel of women as the ultimate weapon for the Slayers. We’ve never heard of this cartel of women before, nor will we ever hear of them again, because there was only one left, and she only lasted long enough to explain all this to Buffy, and then she very conveniently died. The scythe itself seems to be a very handy weapon but that’s not it’s real purpose. It’s real purpose is to be a massive plot device that Willow can cast a spell on to somehow turn all the potential Slayers into active Slayers. Well… that’s… intelligent, sure.

    In addition to the Slayer’s Scythe, Angel brought Buffy a bauble that has to be worn by someone soulful, and very strong… a champion… and not Angel. What’s it do? Well, apparently it brings the sun down and sends it blasting out over the surroundings of its wearer, which is, indeed, very effective at killing millions of turlikon. Handily, it also kills Spike, giving the fellow a true heroic ending. I hate to quibble with Spike’s death, since he’s been a lousy character for three and a half years now, but this one was really idiotic. Was there some reason Faith couldn’t wear the goddam thing?

  • Quest for Vampire

    Look, nobody is more delighted than I am to see old fashioned, nosferatu style vampires make an appearance on Buffy. But, if we're going to have these terrifyingly ugly and apparently all but unkillable critters around, could we possibly get an explanation for their existence that makes sense?

    My first thought, when we saw the very first turlikon appear at the end of the episode where Spike was kidnapped and, nonsensically, bled, to activate the Big Stupid Metal Pentagram, was that this was, appropriately enough, The First Vampire... the Undead emobidment of the very first primitive human, or pre-human, who had ever been cursed with vampirism. I thought that would have been kind of nifty all the way around... the First Evil, using this Big Stupid Metal Pentagram to sort of actualize/materialize one of the many, many creatures that has, at one time or another in history, contributed a part of its essence to the vast dark timeless tapestry that is evil. And since it probably can't use the Big Metal Pentagram very often, it would choose to bring out a seriously nasty, all but unstoppable ass kicker, one that would not only be pretty much invincible in physical combat, but that would strike terror into its victims simply through its horrifying appearance.

    First Evil. First Vampire. I liked it.

    I also liked, as I've noted, the fact that this thing looked like the vampire in the classic film Nosferatu, and I thought to myself it would be interesting if the First told us that this was, in fact, the very first result of the vampire curse ever to appear on Earth, and let us assume, without actually explaining it, that perhaps this first vampire had never mastered the ability to shapeshift into a more passable human appearance, and perhaps it looked a bit strange because it had been created from one of Cro Magnon man's odd evolutionary cousins and precursors... perhaps this was the result of what happened when a Neanderthal was turned into a vampire, or some other prehistoric evolutionary offshoot that we don't currently remember.

    But then the follow up episode rolled around and we got all this nonsense about how the vampires are to the turlikon as humans are to Neanderthals, and from there Giles segued right into all that impressive but ultimately meaningless drivel about how turlikon "are the vampires that other vampires fear" (why, I couldn't tell you; turlikon don't seem to have much interest in hunting vampires, just humans, and for that matter, since Giles assumed the turlikon were extinct, it's hard to figure why vampires would fear them... is the sabre toothed tiger 'the tiger that other tigers fear'? Is the Neanderthal 'the erect bipedal primate that other erect bipedal primates fear'?)

    Mostly this is simply, to once more affix the word of the season here, stupid. Giles pretty much directly states that the turlikon are the equivalent of an evolutionary predecessor to vampires... a more primitive, more savage form of vampire. But vampires are a bizarre meld of humanity and demon, a more or less dead human body mutated by some form of odd demonic infestation or possession into a slightly different form. Exactly how this works has never been coherently or lucidly explained, since the few explanations we have been given over the years have been confusing, contradictory, and usually, when subjected to any logical analysis, flatly wrong. Nonetheless, vampires are clearly a supernaturally created and sustained 'race', if you want to call them that, that arises from a demonic curse/change inflicted on humanity as a whole. Vampires are not a natural species, they did not evolve, they're not even a 'race' as anyone really understands such (they don't breed, for one thing, they recruit and reproduce by infection, like a disease) and talking about them having the equivalent of evolutionary predecessors... stronger, more primitive, more savage 'ancestral' vampires... is simply obnoxiously idiotic. It's drivel, meaningless nonsense spouted off to no purpose containing as little actual valid information as a Ronald Reagan stump speech.

    And, as with so much of the stupidity that has always been present in the treatment of vampires in the Buffy universe, the most annoying part of this particular stupidity is not the stupidity itself, but that no one else notices it. Spike and Angel both jauntily declaim that they don't breathe, while lighting up cigarettes, and no one notices. Angel turns on lights when he walks into rooms and uses night vision glasses to watch a possible bad guy, despite the fact that vampires can supposedly see perfectly in complete darkness, and that's nothing compared to the utterly moronic Spike, who lights up his own tomb with torches, despite the fact that (leaving aside supposed vampire dark vision) he has electricity there (how no one has ever explained, but he watches TV) and open flame is one of the few things that can kill vampires. Thus, Spike not only shouldn't need a light source, but his deciding to use medieval torches (which are burning when Spike isn't even home, as we've seen whenever Buffy decides to search his tomb while he's out) is profoundly deranged... the equivalent of a human being deciding to use burning jellied napalm, an open electrical arc, or white phosphorus road flares to illuminate his or her living quarters.

    Throw turlikon, the evolutionary predecessor to modern day vampires, the vampires that other vampires fear, on the heap along with all the other completely moronic nonsense we've been told authoritatively by various characters in the Buffy universe about vampires. To date it makes a pretty impressive pile.

    Since then, turlikon’s have, if anything, simply gotten stupider. They’re strong enough to beat Buffy into hash, yet weak enough to be battled and killed by potential Slayers, and, in the final episode, normal humans. They’re just dumb. Nuff said.

  • GQ's best dressed shamans list

    This one is, I admit, a very minor point, but if the First Slayer always shows up looking like a refugee from Quest For Fire, why is it that when Buffy meets the shamans who created the First Slayer, they look like they shop for clothes at a Kwaanza Festival? Wouldn't something a little more, I don't know, ash-smeared and bushman-looking have been more appropriate?

  • Slayers, Slayers everywhere and not a drop of Faith.

    To give credit where it's due, the existence of Faith as a Slayer hasn't been completely forgotten in Buffy, although you get the impression the current writers would really like to just remove her retroactively from the continuity. Still, Buffy did mention her briefly about half a dozen episodes ago, stating that it seems to be the First Evil's plan to eliminate all the potential Slayers, and then kill Faith, and then kill Buffy herself, to destroy the Slayer line forever. However, since then, no one has brought her up once, and honestly, with Bringers trying to kill everyone everywhere who has had any association with the Slayers whatsoever, you'd think Buffy would have at least made a phone call to Angel and given him a heads up that these little blind, bald headed bastards with knives were probably going to be trying to kill Little Miss Five by Five.

    However, you can't come down too hard on TV shows when they don't deal with past characters as sensibly as you'd like them to, because there are always practical difficulties... Eliza Dushku has a film career, and you can't call her up on a moment's notice and plug her into a Buffy episode simply to make the continuity tighter.

    Having said that, the writers and producers this season have shown a real genius for writing around the absence of various actors. A veritable army of potential Slayers gets shuffled on and off screen on the flimsiest pretext, apparently due to budgetary constraints and the requirements of the story at any given time; Anthony Stewart Head similarly shows up when the plot requires him and is off to China when the plot doesn't (and exactly how Giles can afford that kind of plane fare with the Council blown to bits is beyond me, but then, who pays for what is something we've just learned not to ask as regards Buffy and Angel continuity, because nobody ever seems to actually have any money, and yet, everyone always has nice living quarters and enough wherewithal to keep the lights turned on, food coming in, and to buy expensive ingredients for magic spells as needed, as well).

    All that being the case, you'd certainly think people could give us a little more dialogue indicating that yes, indeed, they are aware there's another Slayer out there that the First might be targeting, and explaining to us exactly what steps they're taking to warn her, and maybe even secure her help in the coming showdown. After all, much though folks may dislike Faith, she isn't exactly without emotional bonds to the Sunnydale bunch, having been friends at one time with all of them (especially Buffy) and comprising exactly half the roster of women Xander has slept with to date. It's simply stupid that we haven't been told a little more about Faith's role in all this by now.

    Leaving all that aside, it's also worth pointing out that despite the fact that no new Slayer was called when Buffy was dead for several months between the fifth and sixth seasons (and not just mostly dead, like she was at the end of the first season when Xander gave her CPR and brought her back, either, but ALL dead, for a LONG time), dialogue over the past half dozen shows has strongly indicated that Buffy is teaching the potentials... or they all believe, anyway... that if Buffy dies, one of them will be called to be the new Slayer. According to Whedon, outside the show, this isn't true; when Buffy died, briefly, at the end of Season 1, Kendra was called, thus 'passing the baton' to her, and when Kendra was killed by Drusilla at the end of Season 2, Faith was called. Buffy no longer has the 'baton' to pass, and her death won't activate a new Slayer (as, in fact, we saw, between Season 5 and Season 6). Therefore, it's more important than ever that people at least talk about Faith's part in all this, since in fact, she's the Slayer upon whose life and death hinges the calling of the next in line.

    Now, Faith is showing up on the next new Angel episode (as I type this, maddeningly scheduled for two interminable weeks in the future) so maybe they'll deal with all this then... but continuity between the two shows has been nearly non-existent since the network divergence, so there's not much hope of that.

    And, later… they did deal with a lot of this stuff when Faith finally showed up. Alas, even Eliza Dushku wasn’t enough to salvage this season, although she really tried hard.

  • Drowning Spike

    while this would pretty much always seem to be a good idea, I'll just point out that this is yet another one of those nonsensical contradictions between what we're told is true about vampires (usually, by vampires themselves, who you'd think would know) and what is then shown us about vampires, instead.

    Eventually, this just gets so annoying that you have to walk away from it. I mean, the writers can't really be this stupid, so we have to assume that they just don't care. We can't assume they think the audience is stupid, since clearly, they know we're not (see the aggravating tap dance they did regarding 'is Giles solid or isn't he', well above), so what are we to make of it, when vampire characters keep assuring us they don't breathe, and yet, the First tortures Spike by shoving his head into a pool of water and holding him under until he 'drowns', after which it pulls him out again and lets him revive? I mean, for the love of whatever is dear to you, how can that possibly make any sense?

    The First, in Drusilla-guise, sadistically noted that "That's why our kind make such good dollies... hard to kill", but in addition to being a pretty cool bit of cruel and sociopathic dialogue, that's also just silly. If you want to torture a vampire, Riley has shown us the way... stab them in the chest over and over again with a plastic stake that looks as if it's made of wood. Drowning something that supposedly doesn't breathe is just stupid, and the fact that they specifically showed Spike being drowned, and then revived, indicates that either the writers are aware there's something untrue about what vampires believe about their own natures, or, they simply can't be bothered to keep things consistent. Either way, it's very annoying.

  • Age before beauty

    Time is often flexible in fictional artifacts, but rarely have we seen it flexed to the extent we recently observed, when suddenly, the stated ages of all the potential Slayers got upgraded from 15, or in that neighborhood, to, um, 'we're not going to tell you how old they are but they have driver's licenses and that means Kennedy is old enough to make out with Willow without getting us arrested for promoting illegal sexual activities with a minor'.

    I suppose we shouldn't be surprised. Last season newborn baby Connor got dragged off to some hell dimension by Holtz and then fell back through a portal into Angel's lobby a few days later, conveniently teen aged now, and much more interestingly angsty than any toothless squalling infant could possibly be. And earlier this season, Connor's ill defined 'mid teen' age suddenly got upgraded to 'we're not sure but he's definitely at least 18, oh yes, absolutely at least 18, by God' when Cordelia suddenly came over all horny and went enthusiastically horizontal with Darling Boy, Jr. So certainly a precedent was set for a sudden retroactive maturity curve getting slapped on various teen aged characters, especially if the writers decide to have one of them get all groiny with an adult cast member.

    Nonetheless, it's jarring and annoying, because in this case, it's not just vague, implicit statements as to age, like Willow's musing that the unknown potential must go to Sunnydale High, because potentials are all 'about that age', that we're dealing with. No, we've got a very specific statement... Kennedy's 'four fifteen year old girls in a bar' from several episodes back... to go on. It's impossible to imagine an 18 year old girl willingly stating that she's younger than she is, especially in a bar, and even more impossible to imagine three other 18 year olds letting such an insane lie go uncorrected, so we have to assume, when Kennedy says that she and her fellow potentials are 15 years old, well, they're 15 years old.

    And yes, this absolutely was a really stupid bit of dialogue to put into Kennedy's mouth, since her interest in Willow, and Willow's mutual interest back, had already been well established prior to the ep. Regardless, there it was, right out there where no one could argue with it... Kennedy is 15, and so are the other three early arrivals who were around at that point. (Furthermore, whatshername, the new potential from Sunnydale High, is clearly around Dawn's age, Dawn's age is clearly established at being 15 or maybe 16 if she had a birthday recently, and nobody had a big problem with the idea that Dawn was a potential, so clearly, everyone was defining the current crop of potentials as being, well, jailbait. So this sudden switch, solely to allow Willow and Kennedy to tongue wrestle on global television without the show getting shut down by the PTA and the Ashcroft Patrol, is just kind of annoying. I mean, they think we're stupid and stricken with amnesia?)

  • Chemotherapy for ancient, intangible evil

    "The First is in remission?" I'm sorry? What the hell are you talking about? Buffy manages to pop the turlikon's head like a zit, and suddenly, the First takes a vacation for a few episodes? Explain this to me? Small words, please?

    What's that you say? It's just another stupid plot device, to give the writers a break and let them do a couple of 'silly' episodes not overly concerned with the major story arc, and get a lot of necessary continuity trivia out of the way? In other words, we can't take the time to get rid of Spike's chip, and have Willow smooch with Kennedy, and once more reiterate that Amy really is a complete bitch, if the First is incessantly trying to burn down Buffy's house?

    Oh. Gotcha.

  • Get her? That was your whole plan? Get her?

    While the "Thunderdome" episode was far from the worst one this season, it did showcase one major disappointment that we been seeing, in fact, for the last two seasons - Buffy the Brainless Thug.

    Once upon a time, Buffy used to actually do fairly clever things, occasionally, when she was called on to do so. Pouring holy water into a vampire's drinking glass, knowing he was going to be taking a couple of pain pills in the near future... that was clever. (No, I'm resolutely not going to go off on a long tangent about why do vampires need pain medication if they're DEAD, although I certainly could.) Tossing a big curtain over the invisible girl who was beating hell out of her... not a major intellectual leap, but still, most likely the sort of thing that would have been beyond, say, Harmony, had she been gifted with Slayer powers. The campaign she organized to distract and destroy the Mayor, after his transformation into Great Big Snake, was intelligent and thoughtful. And there's been other stuff, down through the years, to show that Buffy was not only strong and quick and brave, but she was also, as has been pointed out at various times in the past by various folks who should know, smart and resourceful and capable of thinking fast on her feet when necessary.

    However, smart and resourceful and capable of thinking fast on her feet when necessary are not descriptors for the Buffy of the last several seasons, and while I could list endless examples of places she's just been plain goddam dumb recently (and really, don't get me started) I think the one I'm currently on about... her big face to face battle with the turlikon... is a wonderful example.

    We discover, after the fight in the big construction site actually begins, that Buffy has conspired with Xander and Willow to lure the turlikon here, so she can confront it in a limited, strictly contained environment and defeat it, to boost the morale of the potential Slayers. Well, that's fine. But, in the end, what does she do? What is the extent of the Slayer's brilliant strategizing with her smart, competent, handyman/construction foreman buddy and her amazingly powerful best friend the witch?

    She gets knocked around the construction site until she stumbles across some sturdy wire, which she then uses to decapitate the turlikon.

    Tactics? We don't need no steenkeeng tactics. We have the writers on our side.

    As with many of the flaws I'm pointing out here, this may well seem rather picky. After all, isn't the point reallly that the Slayer rose above her seeming limitations and found a way to defeat an apparently invincible and unkillable opponent?

    No, that isn't the point. Look, this is open ended, serial melodrama, here. Buffy is always going to win, at least, up through the last show of the series, which that particular episode was not. The fact that she can rise above her apparent limitations and destroy a seemingly unbeatable foe should never be the point, because, well, we kinda take that for granted. If she can't do that, then they need to change the name of the show to 'Turlikon, the Big Ugly Inarticulate Vampire Thingie That Other Vampires Fear'. Or maybe 'Xander, the Increasingly Portly Construction Contractor'. But until such time as one hero retires and another takes over, well, Buffy's ability to rise above her apparent limitations and kick some serious monster bootie no matter what the odds is pretty much an intrinsic part of the franchise.

    Now, what the writers had a chance to do here was to demonstrate the fact that what makes Buffy unique as a Slayer is that she has, as has been stated fairly often in the past, forged an effective support team for herself, where every member has something vital to contribute. This was a great opportunity to not simply raise the morale of the potential Slayers, but to demonstrate to them that what one Slayer can't do, a group of folks working together can, and to utterly validate Buffy's 'we are an army and there's nothing more dangerous than us' speech.

    Thus, what should have happened here was that, by the time Buffy and the turlikon arrived, Xander and Willow between them should have had this construction site positively bristling with clever little booby traps and carefully placed items, both mundane and magical, that Buffy could use as weapons against the ubervamp. Examples I can come up with just off the top of my head... there could have been a pit, maybe being dug for an elevator shaft, in the floor of the bigger pit, which Xander and Willow could have hastily covered and camouflaged with a tarp, that Buffy could have led the turlikon onto... perhaps Xander could even have rigged up some spikes in the bottom of the pit, or something. They could have rigged up molotov cocktails or a home made flamethrower for Buffy to try out on the thing (the students used home made flamethrowers to fight the Mayor, so it's not like this would have been unprecedented). Xander might have dragged some ultraviolet lamps out from somewhere and set them up in a spot for Buffy to lure the turlikon into. Hell, when the big bright lights came on, somebody could have had a line of dialogue about how, since turlikons like the darkness, maybe light would disorient it and give Buffy an advantage... anything that would have demonstrated that they were thinking about stuff, and had a plan besides "two men go in, one comes out".

    Which is, honestly and I swear to God, just plain idiotic. I mean, does Buffy think she's going to beat the First that way? Can Buffy think of any major villain she's ever faced that she managed to defeat simply by being a better asskicker?

  • Now, in closing, I do realize I could probably, if I were in the mood, sit down and write a similar list of problems and flaws in pretty much any season of Buffy (and I could write a much longer one about Season 6). However, while some of the stuff above may seem picky, and entirely subjective, and it’s true that Buffy has never been a perfect show, it’s always been, up until Season 6, much better than it is now. Lately, even the dialogue seems flat, somehow, and in the last few episodes, most of the actors didn’t seem particularly comfortable playing their characters any more, either… as if, on some level, they were aware that the stuff their characters were doing made even less consistent sense than it always has (and always will, in fantasy serial melodrama) and they simply weren’t sure how to make it all seem natural any more.

    For it’s first three seasons, I would say Buffy got increasingly better each year than it had been the year before. In the fourth season, it slipped a bit. In the fifth season, it got it back, right up until the last six episodes or so (right after the long break) when obviously, something shifted significantly behind the scenes (I assume it was the network change, but I don’t know for sure) and the story that had been presented to us up to that point was rather unsubtly tweaked and changed, and made a lot less original and a great deal dumber.

    Season 6 was, flatly, a tortuously long, seemingly endless series of creative miscues and spectacular thematic blunders that I, and I think most Buffy fans, would simply like to wave our hands and undo, perhaps having Xander wake up at the start of Season 7 and exclaim “what a horrible, horrible dream” as he rolls over in bed and snuggles Anya.

    Season 7 gave me hope, for a good long while, that it would salvage the franchise, but I’ve given up on it now. And with two unsalvageable seasons in a row, I’m ready to lay the whole show to rest, too. Let the cast move on. Let Joss focus on Angel, and maybe come up with a better SF/fantasy show than Firefly… bringing his limited series Fray to television might work out well (finishing the fucking thing in comics form would be great, too).

    To me, Buffy Season 1 got a B+, Season 2 got an A, Season 3 got an A+, Season 4 sloped off to a B, Season 5 started out at an A and slid down to a D… but Season 6 was a resounding F.

    Season 7 started off at a C, and occasionally seemed like it might go as high as a B… high marks indeed, for Buffy, of late. But it’s blown too many assignments now, gotten too many bad test scores, and there’s just no time to make up all the ground it would need to before finals. I’m sorry, I have to give this one an F, too. And I don’t think we should let Buffy repeat a grade… I think, at this point, we should just expel her from school and concentrate on the people we can save.

    Assuming, of course, Whedon won’t just deed the show over to me. I’m pretty sure I could save it…


     

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