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Welcome To The Hellmouth

Buffy Episode 7.11 Showtime
AirDate: 7th Jan 03

Let's just pause and reflect on that title and the corresponding episode for a moment. How much did you love hearing it as a line of dialogue? And in a season (quite possibly the last – say it! SAY IT!) where Joss is constantly reminding us to regard the show's early days and how much has changed and been lost, what better way than to invoke the name of the very first episode? When you're caught up in the heat of the latest developments, it's crazy to think of the journey you've followed these characters on over the years. The story we're currently engaged in had a beginning, and that was its title. Welcome to the Hellmouth. And now, a hundred and thirty-some episodes later, doesn't it seem to fit just as well today, and in exciting new ways? Everything that's happened has led us to what is essentially day one for all of these characters, including the minor ones.

Buffy's facing an enemy she can't handle. So not only is she feeling weak despite having to bear the mantle of responsibility like a trooper, she's relearning that she needs to depend on the people she loves sometimes if she wants to A) Survive, and B) Get the job done (in past years this lesson wasn't learned until the finale). Everything that's happened since she crawled out of the grave in Season Six's premiere has amounted to the constant process of Buffy finding her old self and feeling whole again. And in THAT respect, she's not just working through the pain of being pulled out of Heaven and back to her waking nightmare, but finally also the pain of losing Joyce (hence the "dreams" of her mom mothering her again?), and Angel before that (or after, depending on whether or not you consider the beginning of his series more of a screwed up long distance relationship). This is day number one. Jo-Jo Dancer, your life is calling.

Xander's found himself back where he started in many ways too. He and Anya seem okay together lately – a reasonably friction-free… working relationship. That's great, but it also still puts Xander back as the lonely guy who can't get a date. So he fills his time proudly swinging an axe as a Slayerette, just like he did in the old days. Buffy, Willow & Xander – three peas in a demon-fighting pod. But in Xander's case, much like Willow's, he's now in that role as a seasoned veteran who's seen everything and lived to talk about it. Therein lies the essence of this season – it's just like old times, only everyone's been through the ringer many times over and now it's a show about grown-ups. And… some kids.

Is Willow revisiting 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' too? Sure she is (now read those two sentences back with your best Mister Rogers voice). She's full of so much potential and power, only she doesn't have enough confidence in herself to make use of it. She's withdrawn and tongue-tied, and convinced that she'll wreck everything if she doesn't keep herself in check. The only difference is that this time it's magical powers that we're talking about – essentially a metaphor for the kind of power and strength she always had. But have you noticed what the main non-magical difference is in Willow these days? She never smiles, other than when it's forced and weak. It's ironic that two of my ongoing peeves with the show of late were that we haven't seen enough Tara-grief yet, and that Willow has been kind of a drag. Well, DUH! I take both back, because what Willow's been about this season, and the way Alyson Hannigan has been portraying her, has really been quietly intense and its like I didn't notice before now. They could have scripted some more breathless crying and some pounding on the floor and some "WHY, WHY, WHY?!?", but instead they dropped the TV conventions and went for something even more meaningful: Willow is joyless. She's lost her "Always", she committed murder and almost ended life on Earth, and in the wake of all that, she's mired in such constant, slow grief that she's forgotten how to laugh. Now that I'm seeing it in this way, it's giving me hurty feelings to think about it. I'm actually starting to like Kennedy, and it MIGHT be okay if some kind of a relationship developed between her and Willow. Just not too soon, Joss. M'kay? You could even save it until the end, and leave it as a little sprout for the future.

As for Kennedy (AKA Miss "I am TOTALLY gonna be the next Slayer!") and the other ladies in waiting, it's obvious how this is like day one for them, because it IS day one! Fresh off the bus, no Watchers (yeah, we'll get to that guy in a minute), seeing their first vampire. Welcome to the Hellmouth, girls. That bruised-up blonde-haired motivational speaker you're staying with was once the new girl in town too. She was just as uncertain, just as scared, and feeling every bit as cornered as you do now, and she didn't have the team of pros you do watching her back. It must be something for Buffy to see girls of that age practicing their staking and kicking the heavy bag and being told that a super vampire is coming to kill them. It'd bring back a lot of memories.

In Dawn's case, having been around for two full seasons before this one, she's finally sitting at the grown-ups table. She gets to contribute to the discussions, guard the prisoner, grab a weapon when the time comes, get paralyzed, and get thrown around by eyeless and unholy monks. Regardless of what may happen with Dawn's character in the future, I want to say again how happy I've been with her development since last season, and with Michelle Trachtenberg's excellently multifaceted performances. The kid is a great natural comedian and I love the contrast when she enters the room cracking off zingers while the rest of them are typically grim, but Dawn's also great because she'll make you laugh uncomfortably at her expense as much as out loud when she one-ups Andrew.

And it's day one for Tucker's brother as well as Dawn. Not only has be been turned loose after spending a long time tied to that chair, but now that he's a free man he's faced with two monstrous new angles for this character: He's alone, for starters. The last survivor of the Nerdy Trio. Warren was great because he developed into a seriously psychotic villain, and Jonathan was such a rich character that I couldn't even begin to do him justice with the space I'm allotted, but who ever thought it would come down to Andrew? As I said to Chris today, I always predicted that Jonathan would one day find a place as a full-fledged Scoob. It's a shame that it's never going to happen (best of luck to the incomparable Danny Strong in his future endeavors), but Tom Lenk has been such a star this season and it appears that he's gradually becoming the new addition (which is the other big development for his character – he's becoming a good guy!). Chris pointed out that Xander's become enough of a confident and valued hero that Andrew can now step in to be the new Zeppo – a role he was born to play.

Then there's Giles. Is it a new beginning for him too? WHO THE HELL KNOWS?!? Is he dead? Is he a ghost? Is he a tool of the First (this is becoming unlikely, I think)? We still don't know what happened in Robson's London apartment, and I would really like it explained now. Maybe Giles is in town as Rupert The White, and the Powers That Be have allowed him to come back in some kind of incorporeal form only long enough to help Buffy as much as he can. Won't that make for a juicy scene if he finally confesses to the Scoobs that he is, in fact, belly up and as soon as they beat the First he'll vanish to the hereafter? Yes, I realize that his own series on the BBC is still in development, but I don't think that should give us too much confidence that we know what's going on. Has Joss Whedon ever surprised you before? But I still say I'll have a hard time believing that Giles is incorporeal and no one's NOTICED, should that turn out to be the story.

Anya is starting from scratch because she's A) now fully human by choice, and B) A member of the Scoobs for her own reasons, not just because she's Xander's squeeze. She's proving extremely useful as well, being a 1200 year old expert on demonology. And may I say that she looked lovely in this episode? Anya honey, if you can't "give it away" in Sunnydale, just come to Toronto.

Finally there's William the Extra-Bloody. Three cheers for the resilience of Mr. Soul who, despite suffering almost constant physical and mental torture, managed to keep a stiff upper lip and resist the influence of the First until the light of his lifelessness could come and rescue him (more on that in a bit). A new day is dawning for Spike as well, as I think this whole experience will finally chase out the last trace of his inner demon and he'll be on side with the good guys -- not just because of his feelings for Buffy, but because he's a key player in this struggle against evil and he's going to do everything in his power to stop it because it's the right thing to do, and I predict that his priorities will now reflect that. For all the years that Spike was slaughtering and pillaging and torturing people with railroad spikes, this Up Close & Personal with the very essence of evil is one of the last pieces of the puzzle in his long redemption arc. You'll see the final step now that he's out of the cave and back with the Scoobs. "And the prophecy says that when the apocalypse comes, a vampire with a soul will be a major player." I wouldn't doubt it in the least. It's also interesting to note, when considering Spike's ascension to full-fledged good guy, that he probably doesn't run the same risk as Angel of losing his soul and becoming evil. There's no "One moment of true happiness" clause here – Spike's got his soul for better or worse, regardless of what happens.

So now that I've gone on at great length about the individual characters, I suppose I should say a few words about some of the events in 'Showtime'. Despite some criticisms, which I'll get to, I enjoyed the episode a lot and I think it's the best thing David "Mustard Guy" Fury has turned out in a good while. I'm glad to see some ethnicity among the S.I.T's finally, and what I said about Kennedy goes for the majority of them – these girls are growing on me. Even Molly, complete with phony-sounding Brit accent, seemed more likeable this week. And while I was COMPLETELY surprised when Buffy & Xander found the REAL Eve dead in that motel (you think it was the same one that Faith used to stay at? Based on absolutely nothing, I've decided it was), I'm not surprised that the Klingon child ended up being the First in disguise. Sorry, I'm sure that actress is a very nice person, but every time her forehead bunched up like a big wrinkly gorilla fist I couldn't focus on the dialogue or anything else ("See? There it goes again!").

Nary a peep about Robin Wood. Don't toy with me, Whedon. And while we're on the subject, are either Buffy or Dawn going to school these days, and has anyone there noticed if they aren't? For that matter, does anyone in Sunnydale notice ANYTHING? I'm constantly amazed at what can transpire in and around Buffy's house with no sign of nosey neighbors. I've lived places where you can't step outside in your bathrobe without heads peeking out on both sides of the street, but these people have their picture window smashed twice inside of a week, and last night they had the Harbingers and the UberVamp hanging around out front. No neighbors, no passing cars, no pedestrians, no nuffin'. Let's not even get into Warren firing a gun repeatedly in the middle of the afternoon and SHOOTING two people with zero police involvement. No, let's not get into that.

I'm waffling on what I thought about the whole saga of Buffy vs the Turok-Han. On the upside, I think "the vampire that vampires fear" is a great idea. I like the way the First raised him up from the Hellmouth, and he seemed like a pretty tough customer. Its brawls with Buffy were fast paced and well choreographed, and I appreciate the extra length they've been going to lately to make these encounters seem more cinematic. It's largely due to the score, which has been all big and epic. BUT, the melodrama kind of choked it for me to a certain extent, and when Buffy flipped on the lights at the construction site and dropped her, "Welcome to Thunderdome" line, I half expected her to burst into song. "UberVamp, you're big and mean. / But I've got moves you've never seen. / A wooden stake won't do the trick, / But now your ass is mine to kick…" Am I the only one who thought the big brawl was a bit silly? She was no match for it in their first few encounters – remember when she dropped that massive load of steel pipes on it? It jumped up, rarin' to go, with hardly a scratch. Even earlier in this episode she hit it full force with a running dropkick, and the thing wouldn't budge. Suddenly, because she was really MAD and had an audience, her punches and kicks were twice as effective and it wasn't long before she had it on the ropes. "Don't forget", the devil's advocate says, "that she poked it in the eye with a broken arrow AND she splashed some holy water on it before the fight." You're absolutely right – that made all the difference. Why couldn't she have just brought out the rocket launcher and saved herself the trouble? Because she needed the S.I.T's to see her beat it in a fight? Last I saw, she couldn't!

Regardless, it's dead now and we've seen this season's Little Bad disposed of. So with 11 episodes left, will there be another obstacle between Buffy and The First? What about MORE Turok-Han? Let's see an episode end with TEN of them running toward Buffy's house!

Boy, another Slayer would sure come in handy right about now. Pity that Faith is still on lockdown.

Okay, what else did I like? I loved the interaction between Dawnie and Andrew, and Andrew's impression of a male ninja Slayer. I enjoyed Anya & Giles' visit to the oracle (very Neil Gaiman, no?), and it was nice to hear a big spooky allusion to the First's motivation. Despite Anya's decision that the Buffy-less Scoobs are responsible for the events presently unfolding, I still think we have a lot to learn about what's going on and why. This explanation feels a bit too obvious.

Speaking of "What's going on", what's with the psychic friends network?!? Yes, I remember Willow communicating with the others via telepathy in 'Bargaining', but was this latest instance just a continuation of that? Does she constantly have her antenna up in case Buffy needs to contact her in this manner? And how does this explain Buffy and Xander hearing each other? Don't get me wrong – I thought it was really cool, but I'm hoping it's something that's still going to receive further explanation.

Finally, the episode's conclusion. It seemed perfectly logical, following Buffy's defeat of the Turok-Han, that the First would be irritated and want to take out its anger on Spike. So I didn't blink when our focus returned to the cave and it approached Spike, in Buffy-face, wielding a big Harbinger knife. I feel bad for everyone who can't resist the Wildfeeds and Herc's "previews", because I was as shocked as Spike when The First reached up to cut his bonds, and it turned out to be the real live Buffy, finally there to answer his prayers. I loved the subtlety of the performances (another example where other shows would have made it about overblown melodrama), and the expression of sweet relief on Spike's face was worth a million dollars. Thanks for making me cry, Fury – I needed that.

Take care, everybody. The holiday season, a back injury, a bad cold, and some time out of town are all factors that have contributed to how useless I've been at responding to emails lately. I promise I'm reading them all carefully, and I'm going to try to answer the last 30 or so that are still sitting in my inbox from the LAST Buffy review before your responses to this one start coming in. Believe me –- It's not that I don't care and appreciate your emails, I'm just busy, and fairly lazy when it comes to free time.


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Latest Comments

This episode was great, but did anyone else notice that when Buffy, Willow and Xander communicated telepathically, Buffy was not played by Sarah Michelle Gellar? I haven't heard anyone say it yet. I'd like to know why, though. I always feel like you get out of something what you put in, and SMG, in my humble opinion, has never really been in the spirit like the other cast members. Does she go to the Posting board parties? Nope. Does she ever go to Joss's for shakespeare readings? Nu-uh. Did she go to the wrap party? NO! I know she is busier than the others, but only making crappy kid flicks. I don't know!!!

Posted by: Briony on May 4, 2003 08:40 AM
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