Thursday, June 17, 2010

Buffy 1x12 - "Prophecy Girl"

It's been a lot of ups and downs for such a short season, but now we find ourselves at the end of the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's an episode that doesn't have the greatest deal of tonal coherence, but throws enough interesting material together that even while it doesn't really come together it's quite entertaining.

"Giles, I'm sixteen years old. I don't want to die."

- Buffy

"You have fruit punch mouth."

- Buffy

All season, Buffy has struggled to find its footing somewhere between being horror-comedy and character-driven drama, and if you were expecting that to be neatly resolved by the end of the first season, then your hopes are probably dashed by this finale. In fact, the show's inability to strike a balance between these two different elements is starker than ever. it's why, for the first time, I've chosen to begin this review with two different quotes. Both are spoken by Buffy in this episode, and it's kind of jarring how the show can't decide which of these two it wants to dwell on.

On the one hand, "Prophecy Girl" is full of dramatic and painful character moments the likes of which have not been seen on Buffy before this--or, perhaps, since. There will be lots of tragedy in the seasons to come, but by then the show has become a lot more fantastic and unglued from reality. Here in this episode, however, is one of the most raw and emotionally powerful moments in the entire Buffyverse: when Buffy learns that she is fated to die. On the parts of Anthony Stewart Head and Sarah Michelle Gellar, this is one of the best pieces of acting in the entire series. It's absolutely heartbreaking.

For a moment, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is not a show about a girl who kills vampires. It's a show about a teenage girl who is forced to confront her own mortality. In that scene, the fantasy elements don't matter for a moment. It could just as easily have been a scene where Giles is telling Buffy that she has a terminal illness. It's not about a girl who fights monsters in a thrilling display of "fantasy violence," it's about teenagers being killed. And instead of thinking about the Slayer as a cool superhero gig, we're asked to take a step back from it so that we can see that it's really, if you'll pardon my French, some monstrously fucked up shit. The episode takes a much darker view of the constant death that's been going on all season, with Willow's line: "I knew those guys. I go to that room every day. And when I walked in there, it wasn't our world anymore." It's a completely different perspective.

Except, of course, that in the end the show switches gears back to business as usual. Buffy's "death" is the kind that can be reversed by CPR, in a nice bit of everyday heroism from normal-guy Xander, and then Buffy comes back and saves the day with a few wisecracks and some good old fashioned fantasy violence.

It's not that the standard kick-ass Buffy stuff is done badly, it's just that it's a little incongruous with the rest of the episode. The stakes in this episode (no pun intended) seem at first to be very personal, but in the end the Master's just another vampire, albeit a particularly nasty one. The emotional situation that the episode sets up don't really have anything to do with Buffy overcoming this particular threat, and so we're left with an episode that doesn't really hang together terribly well. Still, there are some really great moments in this episode, and overall it's a decent wrap-up of the plot stands we've seen so far.

Random thoughts:
  • Xander asking Buffy out and getting turned down is a really painful moment to watch, and you can't help but feel sorry for him. It always seemed to me in the first season that the writers originally meant for Xander to be the primary romantic interest, and even in the finale Xander has a small victory over Angel when he is able to bring her back to life, which Angel cannot do because he has no breath.
  • This episode is the first to establish the actual location of the Hellmouth: right under Sunnydale High School, specifically the library. This is one of the biggest examples of literalization in the show: High School is Hell, but Sunnydale High School is literally built on top of a gateway to Hell.
  • I'm pretty sure this is the only example of the Buffy theme being used in-episode, isn't it?
So that's it for the episodes of season one. Tomorrow I'll post my wrap-up of season one, and next week we'll jump right into season two.

1 comment:

  1. I feel like the theme was also used in-episode in Becoming" Part 2 during the slow motion running scene that later becomes part of the opening credits. I could be wrong, though. I'll just have to wait for you to tell me, I guess! Also, keep a lookout for Oz's line regarding the cheerleader statue in season 2!