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Into the Wood

Buffy Episode 7.14 'First Date'
Air Date: 11Feb03

‘First Date’ was the episode I’ve been anticipating for quite some time. All the elements that I love about this show were in place and it was firing on all cylinders. Don’t get me wrong – the whole season’s been great, and if I can add to that famous quote, Buffy is like sex & pizza – even when it’s bad it’s still pretty good. But in each season there are about five or six episodes that will go down in my book as standout examples of why the show captivates me so much. Thus far my favourites of season seven have been ‘Selfless’, ‘Conversations With Dead People’, and ‘First Date’. I know, this is where everyone tells me I forgot about ‘Lessons’, ‘Beneath You’, ‘Help’, ‘Him’, and ‘Bring on the Night’, but trust me – I haven’t forgotten about them and they’re all great episodes. But if I want to narrow it down to my favourites of this current season, it’s the three I mentioned first. I fully expect to find two or three more faves in the seven episodes left to air.

On top of the standard elements of a great episode – humour, tension, big developments, nods to past events, surprises, etc, did you notice how GREAT everyone LOOKED? I’m serious – I noticed it early on and the thought kept coming back to me that everyone looked even better than usual in ‘First Date’. Even the boys seemed all groomed and well-rested! You think it was a ratings move for February sweeps? Did they make a conscious decision to fly in the big guns of the hair and makeup world? Even “Jonathan-slash-The First” looked more like the promo shot Danny Strong has on his official site than I’ve ever seen him. Well, maybe not when he was in walking corpse mode…

Speaking of walking corpses, 7.14 opened with the long-awaited answer to the question of just what happened to Giles in Robson’s apartment, and how he escaped that Bringer’s axe. While I’ve made it clear that I’m completely happy with the fact that the whole “Is Giles Dead?” story was just a big ruse to keep us guessing and talking (it worked on me), I have to say that the way the scene played out was a tiny bit hard to swallow. The precision and strength required to catch and hold the axe at the speed it raced toward his head was of the sort that Buffy’s capable of, but the last time I checked, Giles was still just a normal human. Of course, since the blade was so close that ducking wasn’t an option, they had to script some kind of defense, and I’ve suspended disbelief for hairier premises than this. So let’s not dwell. To the graveyard!

As much as I like surprises and new twists, I also really appreciate it when they gift us with ANSWERS (even when I think the answers are hokey, as stated above). It would have been just like Mutant Enemy to leave the Repair or Remove issue of Spike’s chip in the mysterious background for an episode or two, but it was nice that they jumped right on it, as Spike jumped on Giles. It was the first good laugh of the night, as they got to trade shocked and baffled expressions (and wimpy little half-slaps at each other). Personally, I’m surprised and impressed that Spike’s chip stayed in as long as it did. I’m sure there are people that expected it to get removed or disabled 2 or 3 episodes after the Initiative put it in, but once again Joss’ flair for long plotlines took precedence, and it stayed in long enough to add even stronger credibility to Spike’s difficult road to redemption. Peter wrote me the other day to talk about why Angel is like a totally different person without his soul – much more so than Spike. The conclusion we eventually reached is that Angel was at his absolute worst when the gypsies forced his soul on him. He went from being a sadistic monster who treasured each and every instance of rape, murder, and torture (both physical and mental), to instantly being made to realize in huge, blazing terms the full scope of what he’d done. In that instant, he knew true guilt and remorse, and it came packaged with a conscience that forced him to lock the monster away and devote his life to keeping it hidden.

Spike, on the other hand. Was already well on that path when he went after his soul. All the way back in season four, the chip and his growing love for Buffy gave him pause to reflect on what he’d spent all those years doing. You could say that it was the chip that saved him, but it was also his struggle over why Buffy couldn’t love him that led him to remember who he was and then to focus on what he could be. It’s kind of ironic that he went through such hell to get his soul back, when it hasn’t even made that much difference to his personality. Now that he seems to have regained his mental stability, there isn’t that much difference between season seven Spike and season six Spike. Or even season five. Maybe he made a few bad decisions and acted out in ways that Spike with a Soul wouldn’t, but for the most part, it’s a bit of a Wizard of Oz situation, innit? What he fought so hard to get, he had all along. And yes, I realize that this line of thought contradicts some points I made earlier in the season about Spike and how his story compares to Angel’s, but it just goes to show that I’m still fiddling with the pieces of the puzzle. One of the many strengths of both these shows is that character developments that initially seem new or contradictory can eventually reveal themselves to be totally logical, and the fruition of seeds planted years before.

So now, three seasons later, the chip is out and our William is officially working without a net – unless you count Buffy, that is. I loved her scene with Giles back at the house the next day. I find her faith in Spike very touching because, as I’ve said before, she trusts him more than he trusts himself. It was a nice development in this episode to see her finally admit to herself that she’s dependent on him, too. Yep. Quite a pair.

I’m not going to bother fantasizing that anyone at Mutant Enemy is reading what I write, but after all my ranting that the potential from Shanghai would probably arrive speaking perfect English, it was a big funny relief to see her speaking nothing but Cantonese. What’s the proper spelling of her name? Chao-Ahn? I think that’s it. Anyway, she’s been a good addition to the ranks, and the miscommunication led to some great bits, including the whole flash-card fiasco (great nod to the overhead projector scene in ‘Hush’).

Oh, before I go any further, I want to clap and hoot for Jane Espenson, who I’d been a bit turned off on as a Buffy scribe lately. Despite a couple of logic flaws that I’ll get to momentarily, this was a really well written episode (in terms of dialogue, pacing, and the way she juggled the different subplots). One of the other reviewers recently pointed out that Jane writes Anya better than anyone, and I agree wholeheartedly. You may have noticed that Anya is a character who’s close to my heart (gee, have I mentioned that I like Anya?), so even if I think Jane drops the ball sometimes on certain episodes, she ALWAYS captures Anya’s voice perfectly. Yay Jane.

And ‘First Date’ was directed by David Grossman who, aside from directing my darling Julie “Darla” Benz in the forthcoming ‘George of the Jungle 2’, has helmed some LANDMARK episodes of Buffy and Angel. ‘I Will Remember You’, ‘Billy’, ‘Wild at Heart’, ‘Superstar’ (!!!), ‘The Yoko Factor’, ‘Tabula Rasa’, and both halves of ‘Becoming’ (there are others, but that’s the highlight reel, in my opinion).

So this episode was largely about two dates. Buffy went out with her boss to see A) if he was evil, and B) if there was a chance for romance, and Xander went out with a cat demon in human form so she could tie him to the First’s rack in the school basement and bleed him until it raised another Turok-Han. Nice. I know it’s on overstated fact, but Xander only dates demon babes. Isn’t that funny? Even Cordelia ended up becoming one, and sure – the Inca Mummy Girl wasn’t exactly a demon, but she was an Inca Mummy Girl, so that’s close enough that his streak is, in my opinion, unbroken. Oh, wait. There was Nancy, the ex of Ronnie the Worm. Okay, fine, she wasn’t a demon, but she had one pursuing her, so did that venture work out any better than the others? Poor Xander.

I thought there was good chemistry between him and lovely Ashanti. There’s been criticism of her acting skills, but I thought she was great. Her performance was subtle and comfortable and slyly sexy, which only served to make Xander seem like even more of a tongue-tied goof (charmingly so, of course). Their first meeting was funny (I laughed out loud at the giant TOOL DEMO banner, with all the guys standing around watching someone… cut). As usual, Nick Brendon’s delivery was impeccable, especially his foot-in-mouth scramble over “… sexy, funky fun!”

Xander’s short-lived relationship with Lyssa is one of the subplots that contained some of the problems I had with this script (they were few but glaring). Great girl, funny, cute, she seemed into him, etc. So please explain to me the process that led to him getting up in that rack! He was down there before with Dawn & Buffy & Andrew the night they ran into Principal Wood. He knows what that rack is and what it’s for. So you’re telling me that he went along willingly when Lyssa led him into the school at night (does EVERYONE just break into this school on a nightly basis?!?), down into the basement, into Spike’s former rubber cell, where she then said, “Okay, I’m going to tie you to the rack now.” The same rack that the First tied Spike to so it could raise the Turok-Han?!? Come on. That’s just silly, Jane. And for that matter, how exactly did he send Willow a text message with his phone, WHEN HIS HANDS WERE ALREADY TIED TO THE RACK?!?

But for now, let’s leave stupid up there on the rack and discuss the First’s attempt to sway Andrew back to the dark side. Andrew has been so entertaining this season. Tom Lenk is hilarious, and he’s wringing every possible drop of entertainment value out of this expanded role. I was totally fooled when he was playing along with the First’s plot to have him shoot the girls, and when the whole wire thing became clear, it was a big triumphant moment. I am SO rooting for Andrew to become a fully accepted member of the gang, but in the meantime I’m enjoying his gig as head cook and… builder of big white boards (sorry, that’s the next episode). He must have scored big points by working with Willow on this plan to trick the First into spilling some beans, right? Of course we’ve never been given any indication before that anyone other than the person it chooses to address can even HEAR it, but it was still a nice attempt. Good scary from Danny Strong once the First appeared downstairs and got moldy for everyone’s viewing entertainment. They’ve been setting up the big climactic battle nicely, much in the style of seasons three and five (and you can’t do much better than three and five).

Kennedy and Willow didn’t go on a date in 7.14, but they were all touchy-feely with each other, and as Buffy observed, they hold hands under the dinner table. CUTE! So far I’m fine with how this tentative relationship is developing. That is all.

The scene between Buffy & Anya in the bathroom was terrific, and it was a perfect example of the masterful way Jane Espenson writes our former vengeance demon. I loved the “shrill edge of hysteria” in Emma’s voice. And do we think that the top that she was trying to clean blood-or-maybe-pizza out of was the one Dawn was wearing in ‘Conversations With Dead People’? I hope so, because that’s great. Keep feeding me little morsels of continuity, and I will remain happily obsessed.

Okay, on to the most important date of the evening, Buffy & Woody -- who are not yet sittin’ in a tree, but if they wanted to, I think I’d be into it. In that fight scene in the alley, Robin Wood went from being a suave enigma to being the new coolest character in town. Check out those MOVES! Riley couldn’t fight like that. Hell, I’m not sure ANGEL can fight like that! The whole story of who he is and who his mama was is the spoiler I inadvertently walked into a few weeks previously. It’s really too bad, because connecting him to the Slayer that Spike killed in New York in the seventies (as seen in season five’s ‘Fool For Love’) was an absolute stroke of genius. When Wood first showed up in ‘Lessons’, a lot of people wrote me with theories on who and what he was beyond just a slightly-creepy high school principal. NO ONE suggested he might be the son of that Slayer, so my hat is off to Joss for playing the godlike card again.

Now we have a fantastic triangle on our hands, since we have three people, all on the same side, but one wants to kill another, the offending party now has no chip to stop him from fighting back, and in the middle you have a woman who could potentially be in love with both of them (I realize Buffy’s not in love with Robin, but it could happen. Right?). It’s on par with the Wesley-Lilah-Fred-Gunn fiasco. Chris, Kit, J & I had a wee debate over whether or not Buffy is clued into the fact that Spike killed Robin’s mother. In my opinion, she still doesn’t know where the murder took place (earlier in the season he mentioned being from Beverly Hills), and we have to remember that these characters don’t watch the show, so Buffy didn’t see the New York flashback that we did. Does she even know that the second Slayer Spike whacked was black? I think when Wood finally tells her, it’s going to come as a big surprise.

The final scene in Wood’s bathroom was amazing! He’s such a fascinating character, and it was chilling the way his initial defiance turned into breathless gratitude when the First gave him the gift he’s been after his whole life. Now that his search is at an end, there’s only one thing left for him to do… (Cue the scary music)

Take care, everybody.


PS – IF by some chance someone from M.E. IS reading this, it might be a good idea to edit out the sound of footsteps when the incorporeal First walks across a room. Jonathan-slash-the First approached Andrew in Buffy’s kitchen, and the clump-clump-clump made it hard to believe that he had no physical form. It’s not a big deal, and I’m the same person who laughs when we see James Marsters’ reflection in windows. But if I caught it with my almost-nonexistent powers of observation (“Ron, your chest is on fire.” “Where?”), it must have been pretty obvious to a lot of people.

About Ron : Email Ron
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Latest Comments

In reply to the last person's comment....

I think it's been said before that vampires don't NEED to breath, but can do if they so choose. After all, they still have lungs, don't they? Thus, they can smoke cigs if they want to.

Hope that was helpful :)

Posted by: Hero on March 22, 2003 09:17 PM

Ron-what do you think about the HUGE continutity error of vamps not having breath? How DOES spikie smoke all those fags, eh?

And he breaths heavily when he runs. Why have the breath thing in there at all? The last time I saw it used was in season 1 finale. Since then the writers seem to have forgotton about it.


Posted by: Edie on March 13, 2003 07:26 PM

Protocol issues first, I guess. Really did like the review Ron. I've never responded to episode reviews before - usually I just read them, but your review was appropriately willing to forgive the foibles while still dutifully pointing them out. I have one more - question, cause for dis-ease, topic for discussion.

Here goes: When Spike leaves to get Buffy from the date (when he's eventually allowed to leave, that is - he tries hard and often to go and break up that date, I have to say), he turns to walk out the door and there's a bloody tear on the right shoulder of the beige(ish) shirt. How'd he get it? It didn't happen in the episode. And he changed clothes A LOT this episode: different shirt when he spoke to Buffy outside the bathroom, which was the last time we saw him before the bloodied shirt scene.

I suppose I should position myself with the Spike/Buffy pairing: hopeless romantic (alas, I suspect that I'm one of the 'bad boy' groupies Spike mentioned). Having confessed, now the reason I'm concerned about the bloodied shirt: I'm worried that there may be a plot simmering in the background that I'm not going to like (i.e. Spike is less than honourable and is doing or being forced to do, something other than be up-front).

I haven't seen past Episode 16 "Get it Done" and am unlikely to do so for some time (complicated explanation to do with living outside the US) and don't want an answer if it's revealed in future episodes, but I'm at a loss. Did anyone else wonder about this? I read back through the comments and no one has mentioned it. Help?

Posted by: Grasna on March 7, 2003 07:26 AM

Hey Ron, delivering us an AMAZING review as always. I love the episode as well, though I was a bit biased because I HATE Ashanti, so I knew I was going to hate her as a guest. But as I watched it I found myself forgeting that it was her, and I ended up liking the character.

I'm still waiting for them to make a "Robin Hood" joke, unless I've missed it already...hmm.

Love the reviews Ron. Keep it up.

Posted by: Hero on March 2, 2003 12:02 AM

Maybe Willo told him telepathically?

About the mirror thing - I think Wood noticed that he doesn't see Spikes reflection, but he wasn't sure - perhaps it was too dark or the angle was wrong. It rose his suspicions though, so he started with the questions.
When he sees Spike with his game face, that's when he knows for sure, he is indeed a vampire.

Ron - thanks :)

Posted by: slayeret on February 28, 2003 04:30 PM
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