Last week Buffy learned a tough lesson in life, summed up by Giles’ ironic speech at the end of the episode: there isn’t always going to be a clear line between the heroes and the villains. Sometimes that line will be blurred. Somebody Buffy thought was a good person, an old friend of hers, turned out to have a dark side to his nature. It was an extreme example, probably fuelled by the ravages of cancer on the human brain. This week we continue to explore the shades of grey that make up a seemingly good person’s moral core, with Buffy finding out at least some of the truth of Giles’ dark past.
That past comes back to haunt him. Actions have consequences, and the rot that Giles introduced into his life spreads inevitably into the present day. It’s a secret that isn’t going to stay hidden. Life’s like that. The parallels with the previous episode even extend to the cultish nature of the evil deed: Giles and his friends were messing with dark forces:
“It was an extraordinary high. God we were fools.”
There is a pretty obvious allegory here: young adults experimenting with drugs at university. Giles and his friends did it for the high, and suffered a lasting damage. They had the high, and now the low has come to find them. There is also collateral damage. Giles loses three of his friends, with the only one to survive ironically the one he doesn’t like any more. He comes very close to losing Jenny, and their relationship takes a hit.
There is nothing particularly revolutionary here, but the way Buffy reacts is a great example of writing, enhanced by Sarah Michelle Gellar’s instinctive understanding of the material she is working with. First we have the disappointment, and the looks she gives him say it all. For a mentor, that must be the worst possible feeling. But then we see the point of these episodes being back to back, because Buffy has already learned something important about the human condition:
“I’m so used to you being a grown up and then I find out you’re a person.”
She understands. As for Giles, this episode makes sense of a problem Mike (his reviews always follow below) found with Halloween, when he was struggling to accept the two sides of Giles’ character as the same person, which shows the wisdom of bringing Ethan back so soon and exploring this further. The key is this line, from Giles:
“I never wanted you to see that side of me.”
We see exactly how Giles can be Ripper with a dark past and Rupert the stuttering librarian. It is of course a perfectly normal aspect of human nature to adapt one’s behaviour depending on the company we are in. Giles has known Ethan since childhood, so their interactions will of course be very different to a middle-aged man trying to stumble his way through being a mentor to a teenage girl. It’s not that he creates a different persona when he’s with Buffy; an aspect of his personality is heightened, so he can be the person he thinks he needs to be. As the series is progressing, Buffy is maturing to the point where she can accept a role model will have imperfections, and her relationship with Giles is deepening and becoming more meaningful. The mask he wore can start to slip, and that’s fine. This is very strong character development, and there is nothing inconsistent about it. Buffy and the viewers have had a shock, because Giles is very much the father figure, so it is disturbing to see him suddenly becoming unreliable and losing his cool, but there is always a moment in life when a child realises their parents are not perfect, but are actually human beings. In the quote I used above, you could make a simple substitution to get to the heart of the true allegory this episode offers: I’m so used to you being a parent and then I find out you’re a person. RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
I’ve been getting wise to this show in that I’m looking ahead at who will be writing the next episode. I confess I was disappointed to see this was not a Joss Whedon one. Thankfully, my discomfort was short lived. I found myself engrossed to the point of not making notes on things that jumped out at me. Maybe it was because it was a story about Giles and he’s spent most of the previous 19 episodes being a nervous nerd. We saw a hint of something more in just one episode but to actually see it come to something was nice. Of course, it defies belief that he would need help and not want to involve the one person who has proven herself for the last season and a half, but human emotion is a weird thing and Giles is most assuredly human.
Actually that’s what’s been missing I think. The characters tend to all be funny with Buffy occasionally going into the land of the sad, but we’ve really not seen much in the line of real character. Oh, they are great for what they are! I think this cast is outstanding, but Giles is really the first character to show two sides of his personality. Well, without possession, that is! This takes us into Giles’ past as we learn about how he experimented with magic when he was younger. It also takes us into his home and color me amazed when I saw him drinking! Seemed very out of character indeed!
Now, the story itself is a solid one but this episode seemed to excel in the quote category! “This is what happens when you have school on a Saturday!” I’d take that as an axiom! Don’t have school on Saturday. My favorite was the dialogue as weekend class is beginning and Jenny interrupts herself midsentence at the unexpected arrival of Buffy: “The first thing we’re gong to do is… Buffy!” Xander perks up and says “Did I fall asleep already?” Oh, to have the razor sharp wit of an actor reading from a script! I also laughed at “decaf land” as well as the look on the teams face when they imagined Jenny and Giles together. Like I’ve said, an immensely likeable cast. The biggest surprise line was when Cordelia was waiting for Buffy to tell her what to do to help and says, “What about me? I care about Giles!” I really hope the writers surprise us with Cordelia; she’s a wonderfully funny airhead but I want her to be more than that. (With the idea that this series reminds some of my friends of B5, I do hope we go with her on a journey and see her arc amount to something special one day!)
If I had complaints with the episode, we could address the idiocy of the opening. Why would a friend go to the school after hours looking for Giles rather than, I dunno, his home? We’ve established that sundown is 6:30ish and it’s well and truly dark out when the friend arrives! And again, the school is open for students even after a murder has been committed on campus. The presence of police investigators doesn’t stop this school from teaching! Those Californians don’t stop their schoolwork for anything, do they? My biggest complaint though is the ending. Jenny leaves and doesn’t want anything to do with Giles. I mean, she’s seen his dark side and now can’t cope? I dunno; it seemed out of place for her, knowing what she’s seen up until now. If this was an average teacher, sure, but she’s been on plenty of adventures with the team now. I’m utterly bummed and want to look ahead to see if she comes back, but I hate spoilers. She was just another part of the great cast and to lose her feels like a loss indeed; she was a great counter-part to Giles. Maybe now that we’ve seen his dark side, he can explore it more and not need Jenny, but frankly, I really want her back.
So yeah, I do admit this was a good episode with some actual character development. But at the same time, I’m so frustrated, I can’t even think what to say next…ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: What’s My Line (Parts 1 and 2)