Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer- The Harsh Light of Day

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season 4

Episode: “The Harsh Light of Day” (October 19, 1999)

Synopsis and color commentary lovingly provided by Jason Henderson

Spike returns to Sunnydale in search of the Gem of Amara, which will let him finally take his platinum place in the sun.

Buffy: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Willow: Alyson Hannigan
Oz: Seth Green
Xander: Nicholas Brendan
Giles: Anthony Stewart Head
Parker Abrams: Adam Kaufman
Spike: James Marsters

Willow and Oz go up against an old acquaintance, the bratty Harmony, who's recently returned as a vampire. Harmony threatens to sic her boyfriend on them before she disappears.
Buffy, meanwhile, is getting to know the charming Parker better, but she can't tell him much about herself. Parker's one of those college students who can do the deep, get-sympathy routine by proclaiming "I'm not doing the deep, get-sympathy routine. Don't you just hate that?" Anyway, it's all about living for now, he says. Yeah, he's a cutie, he'd have to be or none of these lines would work. They make a date for a party.
Anya the former man-killing demon shows up at Giles' house looking for-- and finding-- Xander, who's working for the former watcher. Anya wants to re-inject herself into Xander's life.
Oz and Willow tell Buffy that Harmony's back, and we move underground to see Harmony's boyfriend: Spike, drilling away at a wall under the highway.

Spike is looking for a lost crypt where the rumored Gem of Amara is kept, but he's distracted by the ditzy Harmony. He finally promises to take her to a party-- the same one where Buffy will be.
At the party, Bif Naked sings and Spike accidentally runs into Buffy. (Spike dismisses Parker as "vulnerable.") The pair go outside and fight a bit before leaving off-- but Harm manages t spill the beans about the search for the Gem of Amara. Buffy goes back inside and assures Parker that she never had a thing with Spike.
Anya comes over to Xander's place and throws herself at him. She's been thinking about him, and thinks maybe if they sleep together she'll get over it. "Please remove your clothes now," she says. Xander relents. "And the amazing thing? Still more romantic than Faith."
Giles says the Gem of Amara is a myth, the vampire Holy Grail.
More talk between Buffy and Parker, who's now explaining about how he loves History because it's about "people, making choices, trying to do right." Buffy's the one who "makes a choice," gong home to Parker's bed.

Buffy awakens at Parker's dorm and the two share coffee. He promises to call "later." Anya, meanwhile, is mad at Xander because when she announces she’s over him while they're getting dressed, he answers, "okay?"
Buffy's biggest news after going to bed with Parker on the first date is that "he's gonna call." Giles has discovered that the Crypt of Amara is probably in Sunnydale, so Buffy's going to try to find Spike. Meanwhile, Spike has found the crypt.
Spike is being mean to ditzy Harmony after she whines that she wants to go out. (He doesn't want any vampires leaving the tunnels.)
Parker doesn’t call.
Inside the actual crypt, Harmony finds the Gem of Amara-- a ring-- first, and Spike nastily snatches it from her. It renders him unkillable and invulnerable to sunlight.
The Slayer Gang finally figure out that Spike must be looking underground.

Buffy runs across Parker chatting up another girl (we overhear "so it hit me hard, my Dad-- now it's about living for now.") Parker is cold and dismissive and deliberately distant, and somehow Buffy ends up apologizing. "Did I do something wrong?" Parker disses her. ("It was fun. Didn't you have fun?")
And so it goes.
After Parker is gone, Spike shows up ("Well. That was pathetic.") and does a lot less damage by just punching Buffy in the face.

Spike by daylight! Buffy actually stakes him, to no effect. While Xander manages too diss Anya one more time and (she comes back to apologize and he says, "I don't have time," Spike nearly kills Buffy while he picks her apart verbally. (“What did it take to pry apart the Slayer's dimpled knees? Did he play the sensitive lad and get you to seduce him? That's a neat trick if the girl's dim enough.") She manages to finally pull the ring off Spike’s finger, and Spike retreats.
Buffy announces to the gang that she plans to send the Gem of Amara to Angel.
Later, walking with Willow, Buffy's having a hard time grasping that Parker could have said all those nice things and still have been a con artist. She walks the same circle of the Hellmouth as Anya and Harmony.


I’m glad to see that in its fourth season, Buffy appears not to be changing. In this instance, I’m talking about the rule of the Buffy MacGuffin: Whatever the plot is about is not what the plot is about. For instance, in this episode, the plot seems to be about a gem that will render vampires immortal. But in all honesty, the gem is sort of a dud. Spike wears it, and although it's no small feat for him to be able to walk around in the sun, it doesn't make him a much better fighter, and it’s pretty easy for the Slayer to take it off his finger. But that’s not what the show is about.

This episode is about relationships and one or two of the ways in which they can go bad. Here, most of the ways involve miscommunication, deliberate or otherwise.

The subplot involving Parker is very nicely done: Parker peppers his conversations so well with acute observations that Buffy-- and the rest of us --want to believe that he must be honest. He's an expert scammer, even giving Buffy a line about how he doesn't want to make mistakes and how he doesn't want to push her. Spike is exactly right when he describes how Parker managed to get Buffy to seduce him. This whole plot is a wonderful illustration on exactly why it’s hard to trust people: even Socrates pointed out that the best villains sounded act just like virtuous men, and in fact it’s almost most impossible to tell them apart. Buffy has only begun to negotiate the minefield of relationships. It’s crushing to see her reeling when she faces Parker the next day, stammering and apologizing because he’s so expertly, deceptively cold. Interesting to note that this is one of those few times when the show didn’t even bother making an allegory. Parker wasn’t a demon, he was worse: he’s just some guy who was cute and funny, had puppy dog eyes and a good line. He hurts Buffy and it doesn’t matter if she’s a Slayer at all.

It's good to see Anya the demon again. Anya’s plot echoes the Buffy/Parker plot, with Anya unable to effectively communicate what she wants from Xander largely because she isn't really sure. I’ve always enjoyed Anya’s demonic innocence; she's a unique creation.

Not much else to comment on--except that, if you were Buffy and you had the Gem of Amara, would you really send it to Angel? I mean, Angel is a vampire under a very unusual curse. Without the curse on him, he loses his borrowed soul and becomes a homicidal sadist. There’s no way of telling what something like a Gem of Amara would do to or for Angel, and no reason for Buffy to imagine that she's doing Angel a favor. I suppose that if you must send it to a vampire, sending it to the only reformed one is a good idea, but I have the feeling Buffy makes this decision more so that this episode can tie in with Angel's new TV series than for any logical or even emotional reason.


Harmony: "You love that tunnel more than me."
Spike: "I love syphilis more than you."

Xander: "Giles has a TV! He's shallow like us!"

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