Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer- This Year's Girl

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

YOU GOT TO HAVE FAITH


Season 4, Episode "This Year's Girl"

Broadcast February 22, 2000

Cast:

Buffy: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Willow: Alyson Hannigan
Xander: Nicholas Brendan
Giles: Anthony Stewart Head
Riley: Marc Blucas
Spike: James Marsters
Faith: Eliza Dushku


Prologue
We open with Faith and Buffy making a bed and preparing for a guest. (Remember Faith? Pinch-Slayer, as it were. Fell under the spell the Evil Mayor. Buffy put her in a coma.) Faith’s dream ends with the realization that Buffy has stabbed her once again. We pull back; she’s still in a coma, but dreaming, dreaming.

Act 1
At Giles’ place, the Scooby Gang try to repair an Initiative blaster rifle which an exhausted Buffy hopes to use on the rampaging cyborg monster Adam. She’s also concerned that Riley may never get out of the Initiative hospital.

But Riley’s coming around, and it turns out the soldiers he’s worked with have no desire to stop him from leaving. His buddy Forrest, who’s had a problem with the Buffy factor in Riley’s life, tries to talk him into staying, but to no avail. Riley walks out.

Comatose Faith dreams of her surrogate father the Mayor at a picnic, until Buffy kills him and stalks her.

The Scooby Gang, meanwhile, find a demon Adam killed: he’s bound it between two trees and splayed it open to study its insides. Disturbing.

Riley shows up at Giles’ place, and although Xander is worried that Riley has a mind-control chip in his head, the Gag accepts his help in their Adam-hunt.

Faith dreams once more of being stalked until she dives into a grave. After a moment she emerges from the hole, and in the real world, her eyes open.


Act 2

Faith is a little nonplussed to find herself in a hospital. She immediately sneaks off, interrogates a random girl about what happened to the high school, and take the girl’s clothes. Meanwhile, the police are alarmed to find out coma girl escaped and the head nurse secretly calls out “the team.”

Buffy reassures Riley that there’s life after not taking orders-- after al, she quit working for the Watcher Council. But Riley’s not completely ready to divorce the Initiative.

Faith walks the streets in amazement until she comes to Giles’ place, where she eavesdrops on the Scooby Gang plus Riley, dealing with the Adam threat. Riley offers to share information if he can get any from the Initiative. Buffy gets a phone call: Faith is free.

Buffy takes responsibility for Faith and decides to go hunting for the evil Slayer, whom Buffy suspects might even be reformed and frightened. But no. Next day, Buffy runs right into Faith on campus.

Act 3
Faith is angry that the world has changed, even Angel, whom Buffy stabbed Faith for, is out of the picture. The two Slayers start kickboxing (always sort of meaningless since they’re almost a perfect match and this is only the beginning of the third act) until the cops arrive and Faith runs.

Willow and witch-buddy Tara sort of search for Faith while Giles and Xander do the same. But Giles and Xander find Spike, instead, who tries to remind them that he’s not their friend and if he sees Faith, he’ll send her their way. “We’re dumb,” Xander observes to Giles after he’s described Faith to Spike and sent the vampire on his way.

The Head Nurse’s team arrives in a black helicopter and soon Faith receives a gift from a demon (she kills the demon). Inside the gift is a videotape message from the Mayor, who recorded a message for her in the few days before he died. He tells her chances are her days are numbered without him, so he’s left her another gift to make her last, hunted days bearable. (“There won’t be a place for Faith any more.”)

In a box in the envelope, Faith finds a sort of magical brass knuckle set.

Riley knows there’s something about Faith that Buffy’s not telling her, but gets nowhere. Buffy does say, however, that faith is the type to come after the people Buffy loves.

On cue, Faith pays a visit to Buffy’s mom, Joyce.

Act 4
Faith taunts Joyce, whom she’s tied up. They’ve been forgotten, Faith says. “You think you matter, you think you’re a part of something, and you get dumped.” Buffy has abandoned them both; she’s not about to crash through that door.

Buffy crashes through the window, actually, and saves Joyce. She and Faith duke it out, trashing Joyce’s house. Meanwhile, a bunch of eurotrash thugs are waiting for Giles at his place, and they know him.

As the cops arrive at Joyce’s house, Faith puts on her magical brass knuckles and snacks Buffy with ‘em. There’s a strange flash, then we see Buffy knock Faith out.

Buffy crushes the strange weapon and lets the cops take Faith away, but we’ve realized something by now. The weapon allowed Faith to switch bodies with Buffy!

NOTES

So Faith is back, and she has some issues. Poignantly, Faith disappoints us all by not coming back reformed. The “Evil Slayer” fails to take any responsibility for her part in last season’s events; as she sees it she’s the victim of Buffy’s cruelty. She’s been abandoned, she says, although it was she who betrayed her friends, she who’s been in a coma. She veers wildly from angry to hurt and back to angry.

Faith’s been one of the better character creations of the Buffy Universe, because she’s one of the more complicated ones: she’s mean and sadistic and has gone a little far into hard-core criminality by now, but at every step the writers throw in a hint of the Faith that could be but is not. The clever thing about this character is that you don’t ever want her to die, even if she deserves it by fantasy standards. You want her to get better. Buffy’s a bit on the whiny side; it would be good to have a darker Slayer out there on the side of good.

Buffy, who of course isn’t completely innocent but certainly can’t be faulted for killing the Mayor, understandably seems to have hoped for a quieter, wiser Faith to emerge. I think that’s sort of what I was hoping for, too-- some altogether different character, maybe a mentor of sorts. But Faith hasn’t changed in the slightest; she wakes up and her attitude-- like her magically-enhanced physical prowess-- is still the same.

I was a little surprised at Joyce’s reaction to Faith. Faith has tied Joyce up, so I understand she’s upset, but Joyce had a clear maternal relationship starting with Faith back when the character was a regular. Joyce is usually the overly forgiving type, it’s harsh to hear her say, “My daughter is going to kill you soon.”

By the way, Adam’s display of the demon he killed, trussed up and splayed open, is a direct lift from Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, in which Hannibal Lector did the same thing in flashback. The image the killers create in so doing is itself a rendering of an old medical journal illustration of sorts, used to understand how the insides of bodies work.

And we end with Faith taking Buffy’s body, which is fitting since Faith has always exhibited jealousy towards her “sister.” Faith only came along because Buffy’s brief death spawned a second Slayer, who died, spawning Faith. As silly as all that is, Faith’s the classic “accident” child. Her jealousy, though, was perverted and heightened by the Mayor, who both loved and emotionally abused Faith, twisting her against Buffy. And now, just as Buffy used the Mayor’s last gift to Faith-- a knife-- to stab the evil Slayer, now yet another gift from the Mayor comes into play, a body-switching device.

We also get to see the Watcher Council return (that’s my guess about who’s waiting in Giles’ living room. Here’s a group that always struck me as peculiarly overstaffed if their chief job is watching Slayers, since it’s taken an accident to create two at once. But the rest of their job seems to involve demon-studying; they’re a big demon think-tank. The writers have Buffy explain the Watchers briefly to Riley just for those of us who have never seen Giles in his Watcher role. My guess is the Watchers want Faith destroyed; they probably regard her as their responsibility as Buffy regards Faith as hers.

Totally off the subject, I have to ask what in the world are the wardrobe people thinking with Xander and Willow’s clothing this episode. With Xander in his unpleasant, horizontally striped skintight sweater and short-sleeved orange shirt, and Willow in her two-toned ice-fishing cap and oddly-printed, frumpy wool getup, it’s as if they’ve dropped in on their way to a “Revenge of the Nerds” party. Except no; they just hang around, insults to fashion.

Two wonderful, unconnected moments: One, when Xander shocks himself with the rifle and, to his horror, is completely ignored by the rest of the Gang, who go on dispensing plot exposition on the couch. Second, when Spike just can’t get it through the Gang’s head that “I hate you all.”

Lastly, you have to cringe at Xander’s pathetic notion that he shares a bond with Faith. Sweet, really.

Predictions? My guess is Faith will die at the hands of Adam, whether in Buffy’s body or not. Maybe she reforms first.

QUOTES

“I’d hate to see the pursuit of a homicidal lunatic get in the way of pursuing a homicidal lunatic.”
- Xander

Willow: “What did you tell him?”
Buffy: “The truth. That (Faith)’s my wacky identical cousin from England and whenever she visits, hijinks ensue.”

Willow: “Don’t worry, we’re sure to spot Faith first; she’s like this cleavagey slutbomb walking around going, ooh, check me out, I’m wicked cool, I’m five-by-five.”
Tara: “Five by five? Five what by five what?”
Willow: “See? That’s the thing, no-one knows.”

Riley: “What exactly did this girl do to you?”
Buffy: “It’s a long story.”
Riley: “I’m from Iowa. We drive four hours for a high school football game. Try me.”

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