This week on Buffy the Anything-but-vampires Slayer we have another well-worn horror idea: the invisible… girl. Swapping genders from the usual way this story is done is a good starting point. Xander actually says what the usual plot would be when he says he would use those powers to “guard the girls’ locker room”, but instead the first attack happens here in the men’s locker room. However, none of this is hugely important, because the fantasy element is once again there as a way to explore a teenage emotional issue. This week we have literal invisibility as a consequence of metaphorical invisibility; Marcie is a student nobody notices.
The uncomfortable aspect of her plight is that she has been ignored not just by Cordelia’s crowd but also by her teacher, by Willow and by Xander. The teacher never asks her to answer a question in class, and that’s the bit that really is unforgivable. I wasn’t too keen on seeing the teacher built up here to be somebody who appears to be otherwise good at her job and even able to engage Cordelia’s enthusiasm and work ethic (which surely must be buried very deep within her). This wasn’t really the time to be painting a rosy picture of a student/teacher relationship, when the teacher is in other respects a monster. I don’t use that word lightly, but this is a series where humans are often the most frightening monsters of all, and the most obvious explanation for a teacher consistently not picking a student to answer questions in class is favouritism. I’ve seen that happen, and it’s a nasty thing to witness. The one thing a teacher should never have is a favourite. I rarely met one who didn’t.
Willow and Xander’s ignorance of Marcie’s existence is a little more forgivable. Xander’s plaintive explanation that it’s a big school just about works, but more importantly we never see Marcie trying to make friends with anyone other than Cordelia’s crowd. Perhaps if we had, it would have brought the whole story crashing down like a house of cards, because that’s a gaping hole in the plot that is just ignored by the writers. How would Willow, for example, have reacted if Marcie tried to make friends with her? I can’t imagine Willow would have given her the brush off. So instead this could only have worked with watertight logic if there was some acknowledgement of the fact that Marcie had only shown an interest in the cool kids, and she was trying to shoehorn herself into a world where she didn’t fit. Above all, this should have been a cautionary tale of the dangers of trying to fit in with the popular crowd instead of just being yourself. One scene of Marcie snubbing a nerd or two would have joined the dots here, and also made her a bit less nice, which would have helped with another problem that I will get to.
The writers were so nearly there, because they laid so much of the groundwork. We get multiple scenes exploring loneliness, with Angel (who is quite literally invisible in a mirror) and Cordelia, whose popularity eases the pain of her loneliness by allowing her to be lonely with some people around her rather than lonely on her own. I have been wondering why she is in the opening titles, when she has apparently little to offer to this series and virtually no interaction with the rest of the cast, but at last we have a glimmering of what she might have to offer. 11 episodes into the series, and Cordelia is humanised for the very first time. Up until this point she has been a caricature, a non-person. In one moment of honesty with Buffy she proves herself to have at least a modicum of hidden depth, but to return to the problem of Marcie…
“I just can’t believe how twisted Marcie got.”
… and that’s a problem. It’s hard to rationalise the quiet-natured hopeful girl we see in the flashbacks with the psychopathic attacker, laughing at her victims. I think perhaps we needed to see some kind of an interim phase on that journey, with Marcie displaying some anger and attempting some kind of twisted retribution from the sidelines while she was still visible, to make that transition more natural. From what we see of her, she just seems too nice, but by the end of the episode she has become a girl who is going to be taught how to assassinate people and thinks that’s “cool”. Ironically, the biggest hindrance to her character journey feeling real to the viewers is that we can’t see it.
There are so many possible interpretations of the central theme here, with the writers taking a bit of a scattergun approach to the issue of loneliness, taking in everything from fake friendships to trying to be in with the popular kids, and even taking time to show how Buffy suffers from being always the new kid, and can’t quite break into the Willow/Xander clique. But maybe the most important message here is to befriend people who are lonely. Although Willow and Xander could be forgiven for being unaware of Marcie, if she presumably was only approaching the cool kids, they are perhaps guilty of being so wrapped up in their own world that they never noticed, just like we see them failing to notice Buffy’s discomfort at her exclusion from their in-joke. After all, the one thing Marcie needed was for somebody to just notice her. RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
Am I out of my mind, or have these last few episodes been a damned sight better than the earlier ones? Joss Whedon gives us another strong episode with Out of Mind, Out of Sight. I like that he’s tackling some real life issues while telling us a story. In fairness, many of this season’s episodes have been about real things. We’ve seen bullies and domestic violence and we’ve seen cliques and the difficulties of being a teen. We watched boys being boys and the insecurity of a child of divorced parents. These ideas get wrapped up in fantasy, but they are no less real and the fact that this odd little show has the courage to address these issues is impressive. In this episode, Clea DuVall makes an appearance… or more precisely a disappearance… as Marcie Ross, the villain of the piece.
Addressing how a kid could feel invisible for being overlooked, DuVall fades from sight and uses her invisibility to exact revenge on those who drove her to her current state. Cool idea if, like so much this season, a bit textbook. But the execution is a bit funky. I mean, when a kid goes invisible, do they stop having a mom and dad? If you did fade from sight, would a crawlspace in a school beat one’s own room at home? And what kid decides to stay in the place that gave them the ailment to begin with. (Although I’m not sure if that’s an ailment.) And when she was collecting her stuff to bring to the crawlspace, did no one notice the bed and blankets as they must have levitated into the place? Then what about those odd G-Men? How did they know Marcie was there and invisible? Someone tip them off about the girl no one could see? Or do they have an invisible girl tracker? And what’s the deal with the assassin’s school for the invisibles? Is that just a passing thing, or is Whedon doing a Straczynski by planting a seed to a bigger world of the strange?
Giving credit where due, the idea that Whedon is giving us a bigger world is not without merit. Buffy talks about her past having once been May Queen and Cordelia makes a comment to some friends, “did I ever tell you about the time she attacked me?” creating a link to the first story and thus letting us know, this is a world that has continuity. Even the story of Angel has obviously been shared with Giles because he knows that Angel no longer feeds on human blood. I love solid world-building and this is showing distinct signs of an interconnected world. It also goes a little meta in that Willow wears a Scooby Doo t-shirt, which is sort of ironic since Buffy and friends are essentially the Scooby gang in the … Buffy-verse?
Meanwhile the lovely-but-airy Cordelia steals the show this time accurately identifying that things are all about “me, me, me” when she puts together that she is at the center of the attacks. While she has some outrageous lines right from the start (“My eyes are hazel, Helen Keller!”) she actually becomes a person in this story. (She’s been borderline caricature all season so far!) Her explanation to Buffy about why she tries so hard to be popular is actually deep. “It beats being alone all by yourself.” This is another of the moments that the series is showing awareness of teen issues; Cordelia doesn’t feel like anyone really connects with her, but she wants to be part of the in-crowd at any cost, including selling out people who actually did care about her. While I was disappointed by this, I don’t know that it would play out any differently in reality, and by avoiding the expected response, we’re given a more believable universe. Sadly.
I do give Willow credit for quick thinking to distract Principal Quark by bringing up a potential lawsuit, but I do wonder how gullible the principal would be. The best bit of dialogue goes to Cordelia when Giles says he doesn’t believe he’s ever seen Cordelia in the library before. “Oh, no! I have a life!”
I do think the final fight was a bit weak though. Marcie ties her victims up just around the shoulders which does nothing in real life but completely incapacitates Buffy the Strong and Cordelia. She also seems to be unsure what to do to Cordelia with the convenient medical supplies she has access to. I was stunned that she actually cut Cordelia even once! Color me surprised! And when Buffy finally gets the drop on her, she lands in a curtain and doesn’t immediately throw it off, because… well it must have been too difficult to actually throw off. Curtains are notoriously clingy! But the biggest question of all is: how did Marcie’s clothes vanish too? Were they subject to the same fate as she was, or did she disrobe once she knew what was happening? If she’s wearing the same clothes since this all started, Buffy probably could have found her by her smell! That would have certainly made for a more memorable ending!
Definitely a good episode but if I were watching this when it aired, nothing that would have convinced me to come back for a second season. Still, Roger tells me it gets better and I have yet to see if he means in this season or later in the series. He’s not lead me astray yet and if he’s right, by the time this series is over, I may have a new show to recommend to all my friends. Boy oh boy, do I hope his words are prophetic. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Prophecy Girl