Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer- Mother May I

Buffy, The Vampire Slayer

Season 4
Episode: "Mother May I"
Broadcast February 15, 2000

Buffy: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Willow: Alyson Hannigan
Xander: Nicholas Brendan
Giles: Anthony Stewart Head
Riley: Marc Blucas
Spike: James Marsters
Anya: Emma Caulfield

Prologue
Last we left our intrepid Slayer, she had come to the Scooby Gang with news that Maggie Walsh of the Initiative had tried to get Buffy killed. Now she and the gang try to figure out what they can do, especially since Riley, Buffy’s new boyfriend and an Initiative agent, may have been involved in the attempt on her life. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to anybody yet, Professor Walsh’s Frankenstein-Monster-like Adam, a crazy-quilt concoction of demon parts, human parts and Terminator parts, is on the loose.

Act 1
Riley shows up at Giles’ place, convinced that there’s been a mistake. He’s horrified to see Spike is a part of the Scooby Gang and leaves when the gang hint that the Initiative might be more than it appears.
Adam the monster finds a young boy playing with a metallic GI Joe. He engages the boy in a brief conversation until the boy asks what the spike on Adam’s forearm is for.
Back at the Initiative, Dr. Angleman discovers Maggie Walsh’s dead body.
The Scooby Gang go underground to hole up in Xander’s basement, where they see a news report about the mutilation of the boy. Buffy recognizes the described wound as the work of a Polgara demon (Adam’s spike, unknown to her, is a graft).
Meanwhile, Riley crashes with his Initiative buddy, who suggests that maybe if Professor Walsh tried to have Buffy killed; Buffy could be a bad guy. Then they learn Walsh is dead, apparently spiked-- or staked-- in the back.

Act 2
But Dr. Angleman points the finger at the Polgara demon, and although he orders Riley and the commandoes to stand down, Riley orders his men to hunt the town for the Polgara.
Spike narrowly avoids being caught by the Initiative, who break into his crypt and smash his TV, “the animals.”
Buffy runs into Riley at the scene of the boy’s death and informs her that Maggie is dead. (“Happy now?”) She storms off, determined to find this Polgara.
Willow comes to Tara’s dorm room to do a spell that will point out the demon locations in the area. But unseen by Willow, Tara blows the spell on purpose.
Buffy comes to Willy’s, the demon bar, to interrogate her snitch Willy. But Riley interrupts and goes a little haywire in the bar; pointing a gun at an innocent woman and sweating like a freak in withdrawal. Finally he lets the woman go (“What’s happening to me?”)

Act 3
Riley’s withdrawal is so major that you’d think Buffy or at least Giles would recognize it, but they just put him to bed as “sick” while Buffy and Xander go to infiltrate the Initiative.
Xander and Buffy walk right into the Initiative since Buffy still has her clearance (apparently she has “freelancer access.”)
Giles and Anya’s research has been as unsuccessful as Willow’s-- “the Polgara” is not acting as it should. When Riley awakens and learns where Buffy’s gone, he tosses Willow aside as he heads to the Initiative. Buffy just overheard that Riley is undergoing withdrawal from his daily doses of super-soldier serum, as it were.
Buffy interrogates Dr. Angleman and is interrupted by Riley, who explains Buffy was able to sneak in because someone’s shut down the surveillance monitors. That would be Adam, who throws down a dead guard and jumps from a second story.

Act 4
So finally everyone can quit saying “Polgara.” Adam is a postmodern monster, who wants to learn about him, “why I feel, what I am?” In a monologue aided by floppy disks he sticks in his cyborg chest, Adam tells us he is a “kinematically redundant biomechanical demonoid.” And he seems to have a “design flaw,” in as much as he feels more like wandering the countryside pulling children apart than following whatever orders Maggie may have had in mind for him. Further, he is Riley’s “brother,” because Maggie “made him what he was,” with her training and drugs. “She said you and I were her favorite children. Her art.” This upsets jumpy Riley, so Adam stabs him. (This is a highly dysfunctional family.)
Adam also kills Angleman and almost kills Buffy before the rest of the Initiative bust in and rush Riley off to a hospital. (Adam gets away through the roof.)
Spike, meanwhile, finds out that since he’s been hunting demons lately, he’s no longer welcome in the demon bars-- which means he’s hunted on all sides, now.
In the end, Buffy can’t go see Riley in his military hospital. But that’s the least of her worries; Adam is still out there.

Notes

And so we end this episode with a new bad guy roaming the countryside and with Buffy squarely outside the Initiative.

Throughout the episode, so much depends on Buffy not knowing that Maggie is dead, or Riley not knowing the Polgara has been cannibalized, that one senses the whole hour is a "between chapter" of sorts. The episode walks a clever line by slowly revealing important plot points-- points long since known to the omniscient viewer-- to the characters. One is reminded of events like the Kennedy assassination, after which half a day went by as the free world thought their leader was still alive and in a hospital. Or the Pinochet uprising in Chile, after which the US government hid the deaths of Americans involved from their families who came to search for them. I like the feeling of here, however short-lived, the fruitlessness of efforts by well-meaning but uninformed actors. But ultimately the episode does little but ask questions for which it provides no ready answers, which I suppose is as it should be.

Also interesting is the almost reverent continued riff on Shelley's Frankenstein-- note the eerie conversation with the boy, which harkens both to the book Frankenstein, in which the creature's first victim is a boy, as well as the 1931 film, in which his first victim is a little girl at play. Even so, the calm approach to slaughter is a sadistic bit of business to put in a TV show that, although heavily invested with horror trappings, is usually pretty bright.

Xander's brief stint as GI Joe comes into play again, but at least this time Anya points out that the Slayer is hoping for a bit more than Xander might be able to provide. There’s a pleasant moment when Xander comes across like Gary Cooper to Anya’s “worried mate.” (“Can’t you do something else, like Xerox handouts or something?” “I’ll be careful. Promise.”)

When Buffy and Xander do sneak into the Initiative, Buffy’s costume of choice is “scientist girl,” complete with glasses. Which leads me to wonder, briefly-- why is it that there are no female Initiative Agents? What’s that about? Doesn’t this outfit need a Black Widow? Angleman says the Initiative has no interest in eliminating the Slayer-- that was Maggie’s protection of her own project. So what else is the Initiative up to? Personally I’d like to see a god side to the Initiative in the future; there’s room for a Buffy Universe SHIELD. Is it really so innovative to have a corrupt army?

And what did Maggie hope to do with her creature, anyway? Adam has the answers, but like the creature in Shelley's book, no one really wants to talk to him.

Personally I think it’s sort of funny that Adam has a 3.5” floppy drive in his left pectoral; wouldn’t Maggie have given him something a little less fragile than this? Maybe a CD-ROM drive, or even a little socket for rugged memory SIMMs. Better yet, I’d have given him a cellular modem so he could just aim his chest at the nearest computer and download this stuff without having to carry around disks in his pocket, which break easily and won’t play when caked in the various things a commando robot on the go is liable to get spilled all over himself. I’m just speculating here.

Clearly, Adam is meant to be a nightmare, not something that makes sense. (Why doesn’t Maggie cover his whole body in metal rather than one shoulder and the back of his head? She could have made this guy invincible.)

In the minor characters department, we see Spike losing his place among the demons and creatures of the night, leaving him out in the cold. He's becoming a grudging member of the Scooby Gang.

Willow and Tara's coy courtship takes an interesting turn, too, because Tara is clearly not as innocent as she seems. She blows the demon-finding spell on purpose, so other than a frumpy love interest, what exactly is she? She's not a vampire, perhaps some sort of demon, a la Anya? Will Anya be able to tell if they meet? And when is Willow going to bring this new girl around, anyway?


Next week: Finally! Faith!

Quotes

“Poor Buffy. Your life resists all things average.”
--Willow

Buffy: “This is the Initiative, Xander. Military guys and scientists do not make out with each other.”
Xander: “Well, maybe that’s the problem with the world. Ever think about that?”

Buffy: “Adam’s the ultimate warrior. He’s smart and fast; he gave the commando guys the slip with no problem.”
Willow: “There’s gotta be a flaw.”
Buffy: “I think that part where he’s pure evil and kills randomly was an oversight.”

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