Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Buffy 2x06 - "Halloween"

After a couple of pretty weak episodes, Buffy rebounds with "Halloween." While the episode lacks the suspense, action, and dramatic heft of "School Hard," it makes up for these shortcomings in zany fun, complete with a few good character moments. More after the jump.

"Well. This is just... neat!"

- Spike

"Halloween" is fun simply by virtue of its premise: the characters dress in costumes, and then literally become those things. It's yet another example of a Buffy episode with strong metaphorical underpinnings: on Halloween, as Buffy explains to Willow, you have the opportunity to be what you are not. In this case, literally.

Which leads to some character exploration that's pretty interesting, if a bit obvious. As with "Nightmares," the fantasies that manifest themselves are rooted in character. In Buffy's case, this is spelled out by the narrative, as she attempts to remake herself in the image of the kind of girl she presumes Angel must have been attracted to in his youth. In Xander's case, his soldier persona addresses his issues with masculinity, leading up to a confrontation with Larry, after which he says "It's strange, but beating up that pirate gave me a weird sense of closure." And of course, Willow has two costumes, representing her conflicting urges to break out of her shell and to retreat further into it.

This episode also notably introduces Ethan, an antagonist who proves formidable, if a bit whimsical. But his whimsy is for good reason: he worships the gods of chaos. And his connection to Giles is certainly surprising (well, it would be surprising, if I didn't already know about it), and it furthers the development of Giles as a character. At this point, Giles is probably the character who's developed and changed most since the pilot (with the possible exception of Buffy herself). And here, we get a brief hint of even more to come, which is plenty exciting.

I don't think the episode really uses Spike particularly well as a villain, although his reaction to and reveling in the chaos that goes on around him does well in establishing him as a character. His motivation here is a little hazy, though. He seems eager to take the opportunity to take out a weakened, non-Slayer Buffy, but isn't he only interested in Buffy because he wants the satisfaction of taking out another Slayer?

Also kind of problematic is Buffy herself, if only for the reason that Sarah Michelle Gellar doesn't do a particularly good job playing the 18th-century noblewoman. Among other problems, she seems to suffer from Princess Leia syndrome: an inability to decide whether she wants to commit to her poor impression of an English accent, resulting in stilted American with a weird aftertaste of an English cadence. Gellar plays Buffy at a consistently excellent level, but her attempts to branch out, as we see here, aren't as consistent.

And the acting isn't the only thing that's not up to snuff. At this point in Buffy, it seems like the Buffy/Angel relationship is being written in circles. It's like a relationship version of the "monster of the week" formula: each week, their relationship faces a new challenge that rises more or less spontaneously and is put to rest by the end of the episode. Buffy's sudden anxiety that Angel won't be interested in her unless she wears a frilly pink dress (serously? has she met him?) doesn't make much sense. At this point, the two are already a de facto couple, and it's time to move past this sort of plot and toward the more fertile ground of exploring the challenges inherent in a relationship between a vampire and a Slayer (which, thankfully, the next episode does).

So overall, Halloween has a few problems, but not enough to keep it from being a really fun episode, and a breath of fresh air after the two previous episodes. And we even get a little bit more Oz.

  • This episode features the first appearance of Larry, a minor character we'll see again.
  • It's interesting that Oz keeps seeing Willow, but thus far it's only ever been while she's in costume: In Inca Mummy Girl as an eskimo, and here as a rocker babe" (as the script calls it). Also, he bumps into her while she's wearing her ghost costume, and they even speak to one another, but he doesn't know it's her.
  • I wonder if Ethan's message, "be seeing you," is an intentional reference to the Prisoner. The typeface of the shop logo certainly seems reminiscent of the design aesthetic of The Village. If it is a reference, I have no idea what it might signify. If anything.

1 comment:

  1. It's funny that you describe Buffy and Angel's relationship as following the "Monster of the Week" format. I'd never thought of it that way, but you're right. I feel like the main reason that season 6 was relatively weak was because Buffy's psychological issues followed this same circular format in every episode, and it got quite tiresome. But I'm sure you'll be discussing that in however many weeks when you get to season 6!
    For me, "Halloween" is the episode where the show really starts to get better than just "good." This was the point when Sara F. and I started hating having to turn off the TV, and constantly hungered for more Buffy!