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A Much Crappier Musical

Buffy Episode 7.9 Never Leave Me
AirDate: 26th Nov 02

Before I get into the kung-fu fightin' goodness that was episode 7.9, I need to address some stuff that came up in the wake of last week's reviews.

For starters, it's been brought to my attention (several times) that we learned back in season two that the only surviving member of Giles' old gang other than himself is Ethan Rayne, who, as far as we know, is presently locked away. So when I wondered last week if Robson was referring to the Ripperettes when he said, "Gather them", I forgot why it would be impossible to do so (Ripperettes!! Anyone need a band name?).

In that same piece, I took issue with the fact that the Scoobs were meeting in Buffy's living room and it was already put back together and cleaned up with no explanation. Again, thanks to everyone with a better eye for detail than my own for writing to point out that they were, in fact, sitting more in the area of the dining room, leaving the state of the living room undefined.

And I definitely appreciated the continuity as 'Never Leave Me' opened with Big Poppa on the job. "I've got a house to put back together", he grumbled as Anya fished for a little support for her point that someone should stab Spike through the chest now that he's killing people. I'm right there with you, honey. Anya slaughters a few frat boys, and Buffy decides there's no option but to run her through immediately. But if it's Mister Abs & Cheekbones, we must take our time and consider all the possibilities (don't fight me, Spike lovers, I'm just playing with you and I only half believe what I'm saying).

Once again, Drew Goddard has dropped an intense and eventful episode in our laps, and he continues to prove that he writes Anya better than anyone. She had a lot of great lines and jokes in 'Never Leave Me', and Emma turned them into gold with her hilarious performance. I don't want anyone to think, based on the title of this week's review, that I wasn't thoroughly entertained by the episode. I just wanted to make reference to one of many big laughs, and Anya's speculation that Spike's little ditty might have meant another musical was right up there with the apologetic look on her face after she slapped Xander. But that's what you get when you mess with one of the two toughest interrogators in Sunnydale.

Didn't it seem like this was an episode for trash talk and threats? First we had Principal Wood scaring those two delinquents into repainting a vandalized wall. Then Xander & Anya laid the tough guy routine on Andrew, who previously traded FEAR MY WRATH rants with Willow, and down in the basement, Spike did his best to convince Buffy what a terrible boogie monster he is. You could even consider old Quentin Travers, who I pretty much consider an annoying bag of hot air, rah-rah'ing the council into action with his motivational speeches. "My friends, these are the times that define us. Hey. Do you guys hear that ticking?"

I wonder if a further point to all this chest beating wasn't just to show how these people -- Watchers, Scoobs, vamps and everyone else who took their turn at boasting about their own power, can talk a good game, but the reality is that nobody's got a clue what's going on and they're all equally vulnerable. Hearing them go on about their own power basically turned the spotlights on how screwed everyone is now that things are heating up.

This episode really featured Tom Lenk in a big way (does anyone else think he bears an uncanny resemblance to Bobcat Goldthwaite?), and allowed him to do what he does best. He gives good whine, but he also has a strange way of relaxing and delivering these very casual asides ("One time I saw her having sex with Spike." "Does smallpox still kill people?") that give me the delightful tinglies every time. He may be the last nerd standing and the one we know the least about, but now it's time for Andrew to take centre stage. Right from the moment the apparent shot of Spike out for a stroll ended up being Tucker's brother in a new coat (couldn't you just HEAR the opening strains of Stayin' Alive?), I knew we were in for nerdy greatness, and those involved did not disappoint.

Before we move on to the drama, I want to address what felt like a very strange scene indeed. When Xander was alone with Andrew and telling him the story of what Anya did to the man who hurt her, it sounded to me like it was written to be touching. Things could have slowed down to a very real moment where Xander confessed to his captive (ouch) audience exactly how he's been feeling since his relationship fell apart. That's essentially what he did, but in the scene's actual execution, it seemed like they were skimming through it and playing it for laughs, like it was just a set-up for the line about intestines (which, don't get me wrong, was TOTALLY funny!). It's a small thing, but it all felt weirdly ambivalent, as if the director misinterpreted the way the scene was written. I could be wrong. I've been wrong before. Drew Goddard care to comment? Of course there's something to be said for bittersweet humour, and maybe it was awkward and undefined because that's exactly what Goddard was going for. I will say, though, that the expressions on Andrews face as he listened to Xander's tale were priceless, and definitely worth repeat viewing.

Speaking of Xander & his ex, they were great together, and I'm definitely pleased to see how comfortable they're getting with each other. I guess it's just a case of bigger fish to fry, what with the hour of their doom being so close at hand.

And in the next room, we had our other prisoner. I said something a couple of weeks ago about how this season is shaping up to be a war, and it's exciting to see the Summers home serving as command central, complete with interrogation rooms on the second floor and the maximum security cell in the basement (which, as we saw, provided little actual security). I can't wait until Giles shows up (Giles IS going to show up, isn't he?) and they're all assembled around the dining room table getting briefed on recent developments, complete with a big map and an overhead projector showing surveillance photos. Time to break out the camouflage. Let's synchronize our watches! What was I saying? Oh yeah. Spike.

It was ironic that people like Willow & Anya kept saying things like, "Does this mean that William the Bloody is back?", seeing as they still think this fearsome-sounding moniker relates to his savagery, as opposed to his poetry-writing sensitive side. And in many ways, despite the string of murders and his split-personality ragings, yes, Willow William the Bloody is indeed back. It seems redundant for me to keep saying what an amazing performance James Marsters turned in this week, but there he goes again. Give him an Emmy, you heartless bastards, and for once the mobsters, doctors, and lawyers will have to go home with nothing but their nominations. I really get the sense that he's a totally different entity when he's playing Morphy. Same guy, same voice, same look, but there's just something altogether different about his mannerisms and expression when he's appearing as the Big Bad. It's a darkness and a cool confidence entirely separate from Spike's personality, and it bleeds through in far more than just his words.

We saw something fairly uncommon in Buffy, as well, which was gentle patience with Spike. I can't totally disagree with his take on why she's drawn to him, but the fact remains that she has deeper feelings for him than she'd care to admit, and here, in the middle of all of his killing and madness and attempts at getting her to put him out of his misery, she once again found a way to speak directly to the man inside the monster. It was almost a bookend to the way she spoke to him the night they finally broke up ("I'm sorry, William"). Back then, I found it really sad the way time stopped and, beyond their inarguably unconventional identities, they were two normal people at the end of a relationship. This time things were just as crazy and complicated (or more so), and the look on Spike's face when she brushed everything else aside to say she believed in him was worth a thousand words. Do you think this was what Cassie meant when she told Spike, "One day she'll tell you"? It could be, because Buffy's words were powerful enough to be the fruition of a prophecy, and they were definitely what Spike has needed to hear all along. This was a major step forward for them, and it might have been all the ammunition Spike required to fight off Morphy's control.

That is, of course, if the Girl-Hating Ninja Tour hadn't rolled into Sunnydale at just that moment to bust up the house and kidnap Spike. Between this brawl and their multi-pronged attack that crippled the worldwide network of the Watchers Council and blew up the headquarters (taking out the whole executive staff in the process), it appears that the war is on. Mr. Giles, if your head is still attached to your shoulders, could you please call in? It was a pretty good fight (I loved the way they cut the power at the exact second they all smashed in through various windows very professional), and it was fun to see every member of the Scoobs get to mix it up, including Dawn Summers and her Patented Bionic Elbow. Speaking of Dawn, with all the theories floating around about her possibly being counted among the Slayers-in-training, should we assume anything from the fact that they didn't show any particular interest in killing her over anyone else in the house?

More importantly, the season's plot got a major push as we now know for certain who our enemy is. Allow me to reprint something I wrote in the second review of the season:

"I love how everyone who's at all plugged in to the supernatural is feeling that something huge and horrible is coming. Speaking of which, about ten people who emailed me in the last week voiced the same theory on what this enemy could be. It's a clever concept relating to a single episode in season 3. I hadn't personally thought about it, but the logic is sound and if those of you who brought it to my attention end up being right, my hat will be off to you. For the record, I've decided not to publicize it yet in case it's accurate and some people will feel like we ruined it for them (see first paragraph. Spoilers bad)."

So here we are a couple of months later, and the hat is definitely off. You guys were right all along, and now it's confirmed. The enemy that's been messing with them is the same primal force that tormented Angel to the brink of suicide in 'Amends', before Buffy helped him resist it long enough for it to just lay down some threats and go back to bed. She also fought the Harbingers, a name by which we'll now refer to the ninjas, and she sort of just ran them out of town. Now The First Evil (as Halfrek said to Anya, it's older than the old ones how much older can you get than THE FIRST EVIL?!?) has taken measures to ensure that the council & the slayer lineage are all but eradicated (who knows how many girls have died beyond the three we've seen?), and it's brought forth what seems to be the heaviest vampire to ever hit Sunnydale. A few people wrote to ask me if I thought it was the Master. I guess it was the leather outfit and the long pointy fingers that confused them, but no I don't think it's the Master at all. For starters, it was played by Camden Toy (formerly seen as Gnarl, and one of The Gentlemen), not Mark Metcalf, and furthermore, it was a lot more about the snarling and hissing than the Master ever was. The Master is a very old vampire, but I believe that episode 7.9 ended with a glimpse of an ANCIENT vampire, and very possibly the first one ever. Isn't that what Morphy said to Spike in 'Lessons'? That we were going to go right back to the beginning? This thing might be the only vampire that didn't start out as a human Straight out of hell to start the whole ball rolling on earth. It's 100% pure vampire, and who knows what that means to Buffy, Sunnydale, and the world? But if we're going back to the beginning of the vampire line, wouldn't it now be appropriate to involve the OTHER primal ancestor in the Buffyverse? It appears that this season is going to deal with the very beginning of vampires and slayers. Could it also be building up to the end of one, the other, or both?

And if these burning questions aren't enough to drive us crazy, we now begin a torturous period of no new Buffy episodes with these two wild cards in mind: Rupert Giles, bearing some degree of knowledge about what's been going on but missing in action, and Robin Wood. His disposal of Jonathan's body obviously implies that he's got a deeper involvement in things than we thought, but what is it?

Everyone who thinks this season's been a letdown so far must not be watching the same show I am, because from where I sit it's firing on all cylinders and things are building perfectly toward what stands to be a RAGING climax.

Take care, everybody, and happy holidays.
Ron

PS I need to address the email situation. As much as I'm thrilled, honoured, flattered, and grateful for the volume of reader response I've been receiving, I'm also buried. I have a full time job and a lot of evening commitments, and it's hard enough to get these reviews finished and submitted to Bec in any sort of timely fashion. I honestly spent almost all of last weekend at the computer trying to respond to everyone who took the time to write me about the most recent Buffy & Angel reviews, and for the sake of my own sanity it's something I can't do all the time. So while I promise that I'll read every word of every email (don't stop writing), I can no longer guarantee that I'll write everyone back. I honestly tried, but I'm getting more and more emails every week and it's now more than I can keep up with. Please don't take offense if I don't respond to yours, but if I can manage to respond to half of them I'll be doing pretty well. Oh, and before I forget, my replies last week to Schatzi, Melanie S., and Krista P. all got bounced back as undeliverable.

About Ron : Email Ron
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