Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Pack

Alisa says:

I think what I like about this episode is the theme which runs through so much of the Buffy series - the desire to be accepted, to be cool, to be popular. We've seen Buffy wrestle with her own secret desire to be normal, to not be the Slayer. Here we see Xander's inner yearnings for acceptance, to be part of the pack. What I like most is the parody of the cool group. Their pack behaviour becomes a caricature when they turn into a pack of hyenas - preying on the weak for their own amusement, and eventually, survival.

You can't help but think that Joss must have had some pretty horrible high school experiences, the way he really goes to town with the portrayal of the cool kids - showing them to be stupid, pack-like, unable to think on their own and looking like mindless idiots with the hysterical laughter after picking on someone they see as below them on the pecking order.

But there is a very dark message, as always, that comes with this fun - how easy it is to become that which you hate. That you should be careful what you wish for and that very easily the prey can become the hunter (and the hunter, the prey).

What I also like in this episode is that it gives Buffy and Willow a chance to develop their own friendship, without the input of Xander. It's the beginning of their steadfast friendship, and importantly we begin to see that whilst this is a friendship of three, it's also based on the foundations of strong friendships between the members of the trio.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Pack

Ben says:

Giles: Xander's taken to teasing the less fortunate?
Buffy: Uh huh
Giles: And there's a noticable change in both clothing and demeanor?
Buffy: Yes.
Giles: And all his spare time is spent lounging around with imbeciles.
Buffy: It's bad isn't it?
Giles: It's devastating. He's turned into a sixteen year old boy. Of course you'll have to kill him.
The Pack

The metaphor in this episode is pretty clear-cut. A group of cool kids are infected by hyenas, they become, literally, a pack, terrorising and bullying. Xander is drawn into their group, and Buffy and Willow have to attempt to come to terms with the changes in his behaviour.

This is Nick Brendon's episode, and it's his acting that carries what is otherwise a pretty straightforward episode. Brendon's change in attitude and carriage is beatifully handled, and serves to undercut the notion of teenage coolness nicely; we see the arbitrary nature of popularity in the way he so comfortably co-opts the guise. The change in the power relation between Xander and Buffy is a large part of what makes the episode powerful.

Indeed the strongest moments of The Pack come not from the menace of the pack itself, but in the way Xander's transformation impacts on the interrelations between Xander, Buffy and Willow. Xander's treatment of Willow is truly heartbreaking, particularly because we know there is a little truth in it. And Alyson Hannigan handles the hurt beautifully. Her facial expressions in the cage scene are just painful.

The central storyline itself is less interesting, although the attacking of Principal Flutie is quite genuinely surprising and raises the stakes. Up until now, it seemed Flutie was comic relief, destined to play a light role of ingnorant bumbling in the face of supernatural disturbances. His treatment here demonstrates, again, Joss's commitment to keeping us on our toes.

The tension does escalate, but at this point, while normally I'm a fan of the sideline episodes, I'm starting to feel that the season has had perhaps too many peripheral episodes, and it's time to bring back the central story arc. This story isn't as strong as the last three episodes; the metaphor is a bit obvious, the acting of some of the pack is a bit hammy, and the writing isn't as clever.

There's a nice gag at the end, and I love Willow's wish that Xander could have been possessed by "some ducks" instead. Ultimately though, probably one of the weaker episodes so far.

I give it two principal Fluties...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Never Kill A Boy on the First Date

Alisa says:

I love this episode! To me, if I had to think about what a typical Buffy episode would be, it would be one like this one. It's horribly depressing in it's underlying message but Joss rewards that hideous look into the deep abyss with hilarious humour. This episode is funny - all our ensemble cast get great lines. We see the Scoobs do what they become depended on to do - back Buffy up. We see the developing of the great rapport between Buffy and Giles with Giles matching each of Buffy's quips, remark for remark. Two points for the Slayer while the Watcher is yet to score.

And really is there a better line in the whole series to sum up the character of Buffy herself than: If the Apocalypse comes ... beep me? So flippant, so desperate to do anything other than be the Slayer, but can be depended on to come through if you really need her.

I love also that this episode brings us back to the Master and why he is Buffy's biggest foe and what he is plotting and planning. I think this episode works to ground us back to what this series is really about.

The Owen plotline is mostly missable because Owen himself is so forgettable but really that's what appeals to me about this episode. Haven't we all had moments when we desperately want to be someone else, to not be bound or held back by our responsibilities and commitments? Haven't we all tried to live over in the house with the greener lawn? Haven't we all tried to fit in the round hole even whilst knowing we are actualy the square peg? I love the symmetry of Buffy fawning and stumbling over Owen in the same way that Xandr did over her in the first episode. I love the message that we all find ourselves out of our depth sometimes. And that even when we try so desperately hard to be what we are not or to have what we cannot, we must soon face the inevitable fact that this is not for us. No matter how hard we want it.

My heart breaks for Buffy in this episode. All she wants is just a little respite from her life which is full of being more grown up than her age and sacrificing life experiences for the greater Good. And yet, even when she gets her one date with Owen, pretty much every member of the Scoobs manages to show up at some point through the evening and she never gets a moment to be Not!Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I feel for her frustration and it all just being so unfair - that she doesn't get to do what every other teenager gets to do. Just because of some birthright thing she had no control over. I love her outburst in the corridor that so poignantly captures it (and my own experience at a similar age): Yeah that's right! I've got no life! Nothing to see here! Move it along!

And my heart totally shatters in that final scene where she finally gets what she wants - Owen - and realises that the reason he wants her is the one reason she doesn't want him to want her. Buffy just wants to be a normal teenager. She just wants to be wanted and seen as normal. She wants just one part of her life to not be about the Slayer. But she's not normal. And she has to make sacrifices.

Oh Buffy! If only you knew it was like that for all of us!

(Although less with the apocalypse and more with less life or death stuff)

And finally ... The Annointed One yadda yadda yadda. I love that stupid, precocious little kid!

Never Kill a Boy on the First Date

Ben says:

Buffy: Clark Kent had a job. I just wanna go on a date.

The first of many episodes recounting Buffy’s disastrous love life. It’s also the first episode truly centred around Buffy since the first double-episode, and the first since then to continue the season arc.

Never Kill a Boy on the First Date was an episode I’d largely forgotten and overlooked, but I must admit I found it one of the most enjoyable so far. Buffy is probably the most likeable she’s been in the series so far, in her awkward struggles to deal with Owen as well as her attempts to juggle her love life and slaying. There are lots of great comic moments, both from Buffy (I love it when she thanks him for saying she can read) and also from Xander in his inevitable jealousy (my favourite moment is probably when he compares his and Owen’s watches).

Owen’s character is pretty nicely done; initially intriguing and intelligent, later revealed as shallow and pretentious… he’s a totally believable type without being clich├ęd. There’s also a nice side-story developing with the arrival of the anointed one. This was another nice twist that caught me off-guard when I first saw it. But mostly the vampire stuff is peripheral to the relationship drama.

Anyway, it’s a nicely handled episode all round. Shout-outs also go to some lovely Giles moments; the use of Owen to remind us that Giles is, in fact, a librarian (the scene at Buffy’s house is priceless!), and the first of many nicely written and acted quiet chat scenes between Buffy and Giles at the end.

I give it four Emily Dickinsons.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Teacher's Pet

Ben says:

Xander: She's not an insect, okay. She's a woman. And hard as it may for you be to conceive, an actual woman finds me attractive. I realise it's no Mystery Guy handing out leather jackets. And while we're on the subject, what kind of a girly name is "Angel", anyway.

Buffy: What does that have to do with...?

Xander: Nothing. It just kinda bugs me.

Another clever standalone episode. I've always been partial to the Xander-centred episodes, and Willow-centred episodes. In this episode the teacher-crush storyline is given the Buffy treatment, as Xander finds himself falling for a giant praying mantis.

Once again the metaphor is apt, and well-done. Xander is given some nice moments, and we get to see a bit more of his crush on Buffy, as well as his bitterness at her lack of reciprocation. We also get another little flash of Willow's crush on Xander. These elements give the story a little more interest, with what is a mostly pretty predictable plot.

It's not as funny as a lot of Xander episodes, although there are some nice touches; the moment where Buffy pulls out the dictaphone is one of my favourites. There are also some poignant moments. Xander's character gets a little more depth in this episode, and we get to see some genuine frustration at his lack of female attention, especially his increasing realisation that Buffy has no interest in him, which culminates in his attacking the egg-sacks. The contrast between his fantasy at the start of the episode and the way Buffy shoves him out of the way to save him from the bug is telling and sad. Buffy, too, is given some added development, with the portrayal of her touching and sad relationship with the biology teacher, the only teacher who recognises her intelligence and potential.

There are a couple of silly moments. Why the praying-mantis decides to show off her head-twisty trick in the middle of school, for instance, or keeps her bugs in a tupperware container marked "food". Seems a little like she wanted to be caught :-)

Anyway, another pretty good episode. The series is gaining momentum after the average start, but it's not yet hit its straps fully.

I give it three Xanders.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Alisa says:

I think this could very well have been the episode that captured me. After all, we see Buffy as a cheerleader again - as she was in the movie. Up until this episode, I really couldn't see how the movie and the TV series connected and for me, that made the series a fraud, untrue to its roots. So yay! I guess I never really did understand how, with all her Slayerness and her LA background, she didn't qualify for the team. But then ... the cheer practice would really have gotten in the way of the hunting and slaying, which is of course the point of the show.

Yellow!! I love the stark contrast between the lighting in this episode to the previous two, which really do seem darker in comparison. Here there is light. And a lot of yellow. And Buffy and Willow and Xander trying to just hang out and be high school kids. Here we see a kind of standalone episode and the fact that the monster doesn't always lurk in the shadows, but is sometimes right there in the light, hiding behind smiles and cheers. I like that this is a sort of discrete episode, open and shut with the villain and with all returning to a somewhat upbeat, if slightly philosophical end.

This episode is the first of many to succeed it which act as comic relief to break up the ongoing, draining intensity of the enslaught of Evil and the fighting of the good fight. As a regular viewer, you need these to come back to the show after a particularly gruelling episode the week before. And my don't some of the episodes utterly rip your insides out. But Joss never ever lets comedy and lightheartedness and laughing into the face of despair be far away. And that's the utter drawcard of this show - never ever lose your sense of humour. No matter how bad it gets, if you have a quick quip, you're okay.

This episode sets up a lot of our ensemble cast in a way that the two earlier episodes didn't necessarily nail. We see Cordelia in full flight. We see other elements of school life. We see Buffy's contempt for Giles' authority. We see future keepers of Buffy's secret. We see the rapport between Buffy, Xander and Willow, before things get too multilayered in meaning and we see glimpses of the foundations of their friendship upon which they will all draw in the seven (eight!) seasons to come. And most of all, here, in the third episode of it all, we see key elements laid down that will be vital plot points in episodes far far ahead.

The writing of this show and the loose ends that are so carelessly thrown out and then so carefully picked up just when you have forgotten them make this whole series a thrill to watch unfold.

Yep, even if there hadn't been that "Macho macho man .. I want to be .. a macho man" scene, I would have fallen just as hard and just as deep into this love affair as I did.


Ben says:

Cordelia: we have to achieve our dreams, Amy. Otherwise we wither and die.

Nothing could have turned me off Buffy as a character faster than the knowledge that she wants to be a cheerleader. Fortunately this aspect of the storyline is sidelined for the majority of the episode. It quickly turns to a story of obsession, of one girl’s dangerous desire to win at all costs. It’s also a story of parents’ desire to live through their children, and the pressure they put on them as a result.

Initially I thought this story was a fairly predictable story about a fairly uninteresting subject, but I found myself enjoying it despite myself. The story is genuinely horrific, in particular the awful curses manifested on the competing cheerleaders (that no-mouth girl gives me the creeps to this day!). The acting from Amy and her mum in the latter parts of the episode is actually very good, and creates some nice tension too. The twist got me the first time I saw the episode. Even knowing it was coming it still gave me a little chill, because it was acted so well.

There are some great moments for our regulars too. Buffy singing “Macho Man”, the comic entrance of Willow and Xander at the end of the main fight, the escalating tension between Willow and Xander, and Xander and Buffy (the reflection of Xander’s overlooking of Willow in Buffy’s overlooking of Xander is particularly nice). It was actually the characterisation of Willow and Xander that held my interest through much of the first season.

Witch isn’t the greatest Buffy episode ever. It’s nicely plotted and well acted and directed, but there aren’t the layers that there are in other episodes; it’s pretty A-B-C in terms of what it has to say, and I found my attention waning a little (okay, I’ve watched it three of four times!). It’s a good example of a strong monster-of-the-week horror story with a clever metaphor for teenage life. It’s also, to me, the first indication that Buffy as a show would not be all about vampires, that there’s versatility in the format.

So not a bad episode all told…

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Harvest

Alisa says:

So I'm gonna take a free pass early on in this for this episode :-) My previous comments kinda applied to this ep as well which I consider to be part 2 to "Welcome to the Hellmouth". You'll note by my referral to Giles' final quip which actually happens at the end of this ep that that's true.

So ... Ben and I are aiming to update on Buffy on Thursdays and Sundays. So ... next up - our thoughts on "Witch" on Thursday!

The Harvest

Ben says:

Buffy: I have a friend down there. Or at least a potential friend. Do you know what it's like to have a friend?
Angel: ...
Buffy: That wasn't supposed to be a stumper.

So one of the running themes of Buffy is friendship. One of the big differences between Buffy and a lot of shows on TV is its strong supporting cast. Buffy's sidekicks aren't just there to be either comic relief or love interests, as is too often, too obviously the case in a lot of similar shows. TV and film in general spend a lot of time focused on relationships and very little time pondering the value of friendship. Buffy is an exception.

The Harvest establishes this theme. In the former, first episode, we were told that at her old school, Buffy had no real friends, or at least nobody who knew about her hidden life. Buffy, arriving in Sunnydale, is basically lonely. And there's a clear dichotomy in Buffy's reaction to the atttempts of Xander and Willow to force themselves on her and help her out. On the one hand, she's resistant, concerned for their safety. On the other, there's a clear longing too. Buffy doesn't resist too hard.

The theme of friendship will be developed and explored through the series, but it's one of the likeable things about this early episode that it's not all about Buffy. Of course, it's also explored in this episode throught Xander's relationship with Jesse. Nick Brendon plays the tension well here, giving Xander a bit of depth and conflict, and making his pain believable (It's unfortunate that in later episodes Jesse is quite shamefully forgotten).

There's also a nice gag in that Cordelia finally finds Jesse attractive now that he's a soulless vampire.

The showdown at the Bronze is quite nice in terms of mood. Another familiar aspect of the show over the years is its commitment to garage bands rather than schmaltzy pop hits, and that works well here. Luke is genuinely threatening, again.

The light trick is a good one. The payoff perhaps isn't that great, unlike other two parters later in the series which come at the end of long character arcs. It all feels a little anti-climactic here. Looking back on this two-parter, I can see why I wasn't hooked immediately, but I can also see the elements which would become so awesome as they develop across the show's seven years.

Oh, and cool to see Harmony here too.

Roll on episode 3.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Shiny Writing Competition

In 2008, we’re looking to publish short stories written by young adults for young adults. Writers aged 12 to 18 are invited to enter their YA short stories in our Shiny Competition and we will publish the winning entry in Issue 4!

Shiny looks for fresh, entertaining stories between 2000 and 8000 words. The style and substance of Shiny stories should be up there with the best current YA fiction, and should (for the most part) feature teenage protagonists. We're interested in stories with speculative elements - science fiction, fantasy and horror - but we're open to non-speculative stories.

We prefer a contemporary setting and/or feel to our stories, but will not let this restrict our choices. Shiny is aiming to appeal to teenagers, but also to the wide body of adults who read and enjoy Young Adult fiction.

We look forward to reading your entries!

How to enter: attach your entry in an rtf format and our permission slip signed by your parent or guardian (if you’re not 18) to shinycomp2008@gmail.com by April 1st 2008.

Note: the permission slip will be available for download shortly. In the meantime feel free to email us at shinycomp2008@gmail.com to obtain one.

Welcome to the Hellmouth

Alisa says:

I must admit to having watched this episode in preparation for this post way back at Christmas time. In fact, I watched 8 episodes in one sitting hoping for inspiration to hit me for what I was going to say here. There's so much I love about Buffy and so many interesting discussions to have but for me ... just not about Season 1.

I think in part, Season 1 hasn't lasted the distance for me. It's the season I have seen the most number of times. I can spot all the credit shots. I know a fair proportion of the dialogue by heart. I have lost none of this knowledge with the passing of time. I was unable to watch *any* Buffy after the final episode (just, you know, cause, like that was the last one n'all) and so it's been a good few years since I last watched Welcome to the Hellmouth.

I think in part for me, I discovered Buffy in reruns. My mother and uncle (who will forever be cooler than me, and I'm okay with that) discovered Buffy when it first aired here in Australia, late at night on Channel 7, I guess. They tried to get me to sit down and watch it but I was too busy and not interested. Then I moved to Israel for about 8 months and for some reason, I happened to catch an episode, I think maybe mid-Season 1, late on a weeknight and I got hooked. I tried to catch as many as I could find (I think I even learned enough modern Hebrew to be able to read the TV Guide and figure out when it was on and what channel etc) on free to air in Israel. When I came back to Australia, I either watched the whole season in rerun or managed to catch Season 2 and later tracked back down all of Season 1 and watched that then (it's bad that I can't remember back that far, isn't?)

So what I am trying to say is that Welcome to the Hellmouth is not the episode that sparked my Buffy-love and it just doesn't seem amazingly engaging in retrospect. Buffy for one, looks sooooooooo young. And perky. She is wayyyy darker later on. And *all* those short skirts! And bra straps! Season 1 is good for bad clothes spotting. Look out for Angel's first appearance - is that a velvet jacket? I think it might be. Willow never ever looks as dowdy as in the pilot. And there is I think my favourite scene with the two outfits choice before Buffy checks out the Bronze for the first time: Hello! I'm an enormous slut! and Hi would you like a copy of the Watchtower? (I may have paraphrased just a little.)

And I must confess here that I was actually a fan of the original movie (I had a thing for Luke Perry. I was young.) so for me .. I was all like um? what? when this series first came out. Back then, I did not know that a spinoff TV series could crap all over the original movie. It hadn't been done before.

But as always ... there's the great Joss humour. The very best line of Giles' right at the end of the episode: The world is doomed.

So ... Welcome to the Hellmouth. It's Sunnydale. It's on a hellmouth. There's vampires and demons and quips. You'll get used to it.

Welcome to the Hellmouth

Ben says:

So welcome to the Buffy blog, where your jolly shiny eds plunge their way through the series and share their meandering mumbles of wisdom.

So Welcome to the Hellmouth is probably the episode of Buffy I've seen the most times, and the hardest to watch again with fresh eyes. I actually didn't like this episode at all when it first screened, all those years ago. I didn't become a regular watcher until Season 2, and only saw the rest of the first series in retrospect.

The initial episode is a lot more fun to watch as a fan of the show; you can see where Whedon is setting things up for later follow-through. Buffy starts the episode as a kind of almost anti-hero. She wants nothing more than to forget her former adventures at her old school, and to shake the responsibilities placed on her.

Episode one is basically the story of how Buffy tries to avoid being the Slayer and fails. She tries to hang with the shallow, vacuous Cordelia, but her kindness draws her to the put-down Willow. And when she unwittingly helps to land Willow in danger, her sense of responsibilit can't be dodged. There's a nice metaphor here; a lot of us at some point in our lives wish we could live life simply, stupidly, without the dramas that come with intellect and conscience. But life always draws you back, forces you to take responsibility again.

The thing that sets Buffy apart from a lot of similar shows is its supporting cast. Xander is goofier and probably less likeable here than he will be later in the series (his line "Can I have you?" would have to be up there with the crappest lines the show ever produced), but still fun, and Willow is just loveable from the start. The real smart move in Welcome to the Hellmouth is putting Willow in danger; the stakes are suddenly very high.

Luke is a tough vampire to set against Buffy in this episode. I particularly like the line "You're strong... I'm stronger." Clearly our hero is not gonna be a superman kinda unbeatable hero in terms of strength. I like that.

A lot of the comedy in Buffy arises from the characterisation, and as such the first episode is probably not as funny as a lot of later ones; not having as much to build on. Nevertheless, there are some truly funny lines and moments. Giles admitting that he sent away for the Readers' digest series on monsters, for instance, with the free calendar, nicely undercuts his character's seriousness.

This episode will never be my favourite episode. There's a lot more set-up than payoff and to some extent you can feel Whedon and co still learning the ropes, testing the boundaries. But it's a fun introduction and a good start... I enjoyed watching it again.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sneak Peek at Issue 3

Light on Water
by Lisa A. Koosis

How odd, that on the eve of my twenty-first birthday I should identify most strongly with the flies, dead, dying, or soon to be dying, that litter the ledge just inside the dome. Or maybe not so odd, I think, watching the living ones propel themselves again and again against the thick material that separates them - and me - from the potentially lethal world around us. Potentially lethal, I should say, for me - for people - not for flies.

And no matter how many times the bots make their circuit, sweeping away all expired organic material to be recycled, no matter how many times they come, there are more dead flies.

The sun, orange and round, dips below the horizon. As darkness falls, the flies begin to settle, at least until tomorrow, when they renew their quest for impossible freedom.

Along with me.

“Hey Toby, shove over.”

I shift slightly on the ledge. Everest brushes away some of the flies before sitting. His weight is solid against me, and I lean into him. He puts his hand on my back and rubs, making small circles with his palm.

“What are you thinking?” he asks.

I shake my head, turn slightly, and press my palm against the dome, savoring the cool night air through it, as if by osmosis, I can absorb it.