So far this season every episode has taken an issue facing Buffy and dealt with it by translating a metaphor into a literal monster to fight. This week it is Faith’s turn to supply the metaphor: “all men are beasts,” and the problem Buffy has to deal with is the return of Angel in feral form. Meanwhile, people are being ripped apart by an animal, and the question is whether Oz is responsible or perhaps even Angel. One of the men in her life might be an out-of-control beast.
The literal translation of the idea of all men being beasts deep down is to show us a Jekyll and Hyde story. For the first time this season it is a literal version of a metaphor that doesn’t ideally translate to the specific issue Buffy is facing. Firstly, the problem of Oz is silly. Xander falls asleep and everyone worries Oz might have got out and killed the victim in the night, just because a high window is ajar. That would make sense if Oz had actually got out and wasn’t found in the cage in the morning, which would have been such an easy fix for the problem in the script, but instead he clearly never leaves the cage. It’s one thing to assume he got out via a high window, but it’s quite another to assume he returned voluntarily to his imprisonment once he had had a little snack, for no apparent reason. It’s an absurd suggestion. The most interesting thing about this whole situation is dealt with heavy-handedly: Xander’s failure in his duty. There’s a bit of angry shouting from Giles, but no examination of why he behaves the way he does, going off to sleep without a second thought. It could have worked as an act of defiance against a relationship he resents, but if that was his motivation then it goes completely unspoken.
The metaphor translates to the literal even worse in the case of Angel, because he’s no Jekyll and Hyde. He doesn’t switch back and forth between Angel and Angelus at whim, or based on a trigger. From Buffy’s point of view he was always Angel, then he was Angelus, and then he was restored to Angel, and that’s the complete picture. He’s still Angel, but driven to a feral state by the horrors he has faced. This is a far cry from what we see from Pete, the abuser in a controlling relationship. If we wanted to go with a real-world comparison for the Buffy/Angel situation, an abusive relationship doesn’t hold up. It would be closer to somebody supporting a mentally ill partner.
Despite the comparison not really holding up, the Pete/Debbie situation is still an interesting one. It follows the usual, depressing pattern of domestic abuse. Pete blames Debbie for his own behaviour (“you know you shouldn’t make me mad.”) and Debbie blames herself (“it’s me, I make him crazy.”). Pete tries to control every aspect of her life, furiously jealous if she so much as glances in the direction of another man. It’s nasty stuff.
The traumatic aspects of the episode are nicely balanced with a little bit of humour, and a lot of fantasy mash-ups. For the humour, I would just like to highlight a moment that made me laugh out loud, when Giles gets shot with a tranquilliser dart and collapses to the floor with the words “bloody priceless!” It’s easy to forget what a superb comedy actor Anthony Head is, as he is so often the straight man in the comedy act that is the Scooby Gang, but moments like this provide a joyful reminder of his abilities. As for the mash-ups, feast your eyes on this line-up of battles:
Mr Hyde vs the Wolfman
Wolfman vs Slayer
Slayer vs Mr Hyde
Mr Hyde vs Vampire
The episode needs the counterbalance to the emotional torment. Not only do we get a picture of a teenage girl stuck in an abusive relationship, we also have to watch Buffy dealing with the thing she just moved on from coming back to haunt her. She is brought to a new low, feeling like there is nobody to talk to about it (and you can see why: there’s no reason for her not to assume either Giles or Xander would head straight off to stake Angel; they’ve both got previous), and just when she finds a confidante he turns up dead. But it’s always darkest before the dawn, and it turns out that Angel lives on, hidden deep inside the feral creature he has become. It’s going to be interesting when the others find out about him… RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
This season has started off a bit slow, but I get why. I think there is a subtle difference between watching a series that is episodic vs one that is epic. Episodic television, like Star Trek: The Next Generation for instance, can have a bunch of episodes that share little connection from one to the other. They can almost be watched in any order. In epic television, like Babylon 5, you’re following a saga, experiencing the entire journey with the cast. Each episode blends into the next and you feel like you’ve missed important things if you come in mid-way. Both have merits and for a casual viewer, TNG is probably a better bet because if you miss any episode, you can easily get back into the story. The epic, like B5, would leave a lot of questions for the casual viewer, but for someone who likes a meaty story, the epic can’t be beat.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been an odd amalgam of the two. Season Three of Buffy continues taking us on the emotional journey with the cast following the story through the characters, but it manages to still give us episodes that are very clearly defined. It’s a very unusual approach but one that I feel is paying off in spades. So while each episode has very distinctive events that set them apart from each other, we still take the journey with the first episode of the season showing us what Buffy was up to over the summer. The second had to show us the consequences of those actions as she reintegrates into her life. The third had to give us the introduction to the new players for the season. With all that done, the fourth episode gets really interesting…
As a fan of the Universal horror monsters, this was a marvelously enjoyable episode giving us a vampire, a werewolf and a Jekyll/Hyde character; hence the “beasts” of the title. Besides giving us a strong episode, it once again seems to address some hefty subjects. Domestic abuse is part of the Jekyll/Hyde story where Pete beats up his girlfriend Debbie, then asks for forgiveness and is then cradled like he’s the injured party. It’s actually quite hard to stomach. Also addressed, through a school counselor who is allowed to smoke in his office, is how a guy can break up with his girlfriend after sex; he becomes a monster. The irony that Angel really did become a monster is just cleverly masquerading the reality of life. When that happens, it’s got to make a woman feel terrible and used but we’re given a bit of a free pass with Angel since he actually is a monster. Finally, when Buffy goes to see the counselor and says “I need to talk to someone”, I felt there was a very clear message: even the hero needs help sometimes, and that is nothing to be ashamed of. This episode is brave and still manages to entertain. This show is genuinely impressing me now. I didn’t expect that for a few more seasons.
“Great, now I’m going to be stuck with serious thoughts all day!” True, so let’s shift gears. This episode was not as humorous as some but still managed to deliver a few good lines, like the dialogue of Xander handling the “full Monty”, before realizing what he was saying. But I laughed deeply when Giles got shot with the tranquilizer dart. (I actually laughed again while typing this!) And I don’t know about you, but I also laughed when Giles acted all soft and gentle with Buffy when he wakes her from guard duty, considering how harsh he was to Xander for doing the same thing.
As far as exciting storytelling goes, having Hyde attack Oz was unexpected. I was fairly certain Oz would change before the attack. Still, it made for an incredible moment when Oz felt the change coming on. “Rules change…” Like those classic Universal movies, we all love when the two monsters fight. This was no exception, though I could not help but wonder how much of Oz is staying intact during his change. Is there another story arc happening right before our eyes? I noticed that the creature looked different from before and moved in a more ape-like way. He also seems reasonably passive to the humans as they are around him and only attacks the Mr. Hyde character. Even the fact that he makes no attempt to get out of the cage spoke volumes to me.
In the continuity department, I was delighted to see Faith back, glad to see this series actually continues something it starts. The reminder of the hell-dimension is another reason we had to have that first episode before we got here, so we can understand that time moves differently in that realm and that Angel would have been tormented for “a hundred years”. Of course, I still say that’s some bogus nonsense, but I used different words. I have no issue with saying time moves differently but I don’t think there’s an equivalent nor did Giles do math quickly enough to figure it out. Saying time moves differently was enough. Saying time moves at X hours to Y years just made for an unbelievable application of that time differential. Sometimes less is more.
Overall, I had way more notes on this episode than almost any other. “Scooby Doo lunchbox, manic/depressive chick, cold blooded killer donut…” are all some of the notes I made to talk about but there was so much to enjoy in this episode that all those little things feel like chocolate chips on a chocolate ice cream sundae – they are great, but they are just added joy to an already delicious treat.
For years I’ve been looking for a show that would impress me the way Babylon 5 did. It’s long stood as my go-to for epic television entertainment. If Buffy can do something similar, I will be very happy indeed. It’ll feel like I’ve come home! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Homecoming