Thursday, May 29, 2008

BtVS 2.02 Some Assembly Required

Rachel says:

After the dismal previous episode this one is a gem. In the vein of Season One's "Witch", we see that in Sunnydale it is not always the demons that are the problem. A very satisfying episode that looks at the pain of loss, matched with a wacky subplot of the early relationship between Giles and Jenny Calendar.

It also manages to be truly icky - both the girl made of parts and the resurrected footballer.
The plot clips along at a neat pace, the jokes are funnier, and information is revealed at the right points. Although it is becoming painful the way that Angel is hanging around for no good reason. It seems where Cordelia can be written into the action almost smoothly, Angel cannot, and vice-versa. He is the awkward hanger-on here.

Particularly sweet is Xander's selfless rescuing of Cordelia from the fire, laying the foundations for a future something...

Verdict: "Grave-robbing? That's new. Interesting!"

Alisa says:

I *know* you meant to say gross and disturbing

Heh. I have to disagree with you again and say I think I really despise this episode. It's too long for its main plot and I just can't engage with the motives of the bad guys in this one. I find it a totally forgettable plot but the episode has some really great scenes and one-liners - always the bit with Cordelia scrounging round in the bin and Angel stumbling upon her. And of course "Love makes you do the whacky". And Xander to Willow at the end " You ever feel like we're playing musical chairs and the music has stopped and we're the only ones left standing" - "All the time".

Other moments for me are the awkward Ms Calendar and Giles getting together, the nice repartee between Buffy and Xander, Willow and Buffy leaning back against a headstone talking about the "sexy dance" from the previous episode whilst Giles and Xander dig up the grave and the "What are we hoping for? Body or no body?" followed by the credit shot of everyone peering into the grave.

It occurs to me in rewatching this episode, that it's just as well Cordelia is shallow - how else would she cope with being the bait or the victim all the time? It kinda makes me love her - the way she burns her clothes and bounces back.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

BtVS: 2.01 When She Was Bad

Rachel Says:

I didn't want to start off this series of reviews by being all negative, but this is a poor example of Buffy. Not only is the main character behaving completely unlike herself, the inconsequential plot is laden with melodrama and the jokes are beyond awful. There's a cheesey training montage backed by what sounds like the dregs of an 80s hair band and even worse soap-opera music at the end.

The weird dream is an interesting point, but fails to elicit an emotional response after the initial viewing, and then doesn't really lead to anything. It is not as portent-ful as Buffy's dreams are supposed to be.

Cordelia does get some great moments and lines -- confronting Buffy in the alley and mistaking the Three Musketeers for the Three Stooges -- even though the actor, Charisma Carpenter, is obviously hampered by a bad cold.

Nevertheless this is our first look at Buffy as a dark and withdrawn character. She turns away from her friends in her time of crisis, which becomes a recurring theme. She becomes more withdrawn until she snaps and is forced to make talcum powder of her enemies. Although it plays badly here, it is an interesting early taste of what is to come in later seasons.

If this had been your first experience of BtVS you would not be blamed for never returning.

Verdict: "I hate that girl."

Alisa says:

I didn't hate this episode nearly as much, or even at all, as you did. I think in part that’s because I went straight from Season 1 into Season 2 in the one hour. There was a lot of continuity that worked for me that way.

There’s so much bittersweetness in this episode. The opening scene of Xander and Willow doing what they would be doing had Buffy never come to Sunnydale makes my heart ache - the cute thing with the ice cream on Willow's nose and the very almost kiss? This scene leaves me wondering - if Buffy had never come to Sunnydale, would Xander and Willow have gotten together? They would, right?

Cue Buffy back from summer holidays visiting her dad - new haircut making her look more grownup, reflecting the whole 'coming of age baptism' she had in the Season 1 finale. There's a new edge to her. And there's also something up with her.

As an aside,I also really liked the scene with her parents discussing her well being. I liked that Buffy was clearly more important to them than whatever happened to their relationship. You never really see her parents interact again. And we know that Buffy never really gets to feel that collective love from her parents. It's very noticeably missing in the rest of the show.

Quickly we are back to Buffy and her atitude towards being the Slayer:
Buffy: You're the Watcher, I just work here

But we also get a bit of an insight into what's up with her:
Giles: Fair to say that you stayed in shape
Buffy: Whatever they got coming next, I'm ready

But I liked the contrast to the Buffy in the final scenes of the Season 1 finale where here there's also a new sense of fragility and mortality about Buffy. We see that in the dream sequence: I’ve killed you once, shouldn't be too difficult to do it again.

Being the Buffy/Angel fan that I am, I love the angst of their miscommunicated: "I've missed you" and I love the bit where Angel checks in with Buffy because he thinks she might be angr with him. I love how for someone so OOOLD as Angel, we still get snippets of adolescent from him.

The line by Buffy to Cordelia: "You won't tell anyone I'm the slayer and I won't tell anyone you're a moron" is so out of character that it is so memorable for me. It jars because it's so harsh and unexpected. And I love that even so, Cordelia is still the one that kicks some sense into Buffy. No matter how hard she fights it, Cordelia is in the gang.

But for me, this episode is always have THAT sexy dance with Xander in front of Angel. It harks strongly back to the moment of the dead/undead contrast between Xander and Angel set up in Season 1 finale. It's so extremely hurtful to both Angel and Willow. And Xander ultimately. And it's also I think the only time we ever see Buffy choose Xander over Angel, and much as he wants it to be true, you can see even he struggles to believe it.

Buffy: Xander, did I ever thank you for saving my life?
Xander: No
Buffy: Don't you wish I would?

Unlike you, Rachel, I liked some of the silly jokes:
Undead American.

And I love the joke for Snyder:
S: Some things I can just smell it. It's like a sixth sense
G:That would be one of the five

I love the underlying theme of friends having your back that runs through the whole show.
Willow: What about the other half of the note .... the bit that says PS this is a trap

Ultimately this is a major part of why Buffy is ongoingly successful and where one of her strengths lays but it just takes her a while to get it.
Buffy: This is Slayer business, a little less from the civilians please.

Finally, I love the moment near the end where Buffy asks Angel: "You think you can take me?... Go on! Kick my ass." It reminds me of the scene in Season 4 where she and Riley see who is stronger by beating each other up. Why does she keep goading her men to hit her? It's a bit off.

I think this episode is a good start for Season 2. It's got light and dark, bitch and snark. It picks up where we left off but it also sets up a lot of angst for us in the coming season. I can't wait!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Shiny Blog welcomes Rachel Holkner!

Welcome aboard to Rachel Holkner who has joined me, Alisa, in the Buffy retrospective from Season 2 onwards. Rachel thought it best to give a brief introduction by way of a summary of her thoughts on Season 1, below.

Rachel and I are working on a new format for the episode by episode commentaries and are aiming to post the first episode for Season 2 later this week. In the meantime here's a quick "Previously, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer".

BtVS Season One - Overview

I thought I'd start reviewing Buffy with an overview of Season One. Ben and Alisa have already done a great job hashing over each episode individually, but for completeness sake I wanted to start at the beginning.

I remember very distinctly watching the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I had never heard of the movie, but had seen the show advertised and it looked like my cup of tea. There was nothing much on TV at that time that suited me, I was living in a lousy share house, fumbling through a mediocre university course and I needed a new escape. So, all excited I curled up on the floor on the night it premiered (the couch was fourth-hand and too lumpy to actually be used), scooting up close like I was a kid again watching Saturday morning cartoons.

It was unfortunate that I had built it up so much because no show could survive that kind of expectation*. Although BtVS would turn out to be exactly what I (and millions of others) needed to see, the first episode is not typical. In fact it has a distinctly different mood to even the second episode. Welcome to the Hellmouth does a fine job of introducing this new and complicated world, vampire lore, the destiny of the Slayer as well as introducing a dozen brand new characters. But it's distinctly Californian, something the writers quickly chose to move away from, thank goodness, and make the show more universal with it's own distinct voice.

We learn some important lessons in the first couple of episodes, not least of which is that anyone is fair game. Creator Whedon has been known to take this to extremes of late. Another important lesson being that high school is as ridiculous and amusing as it is terrifying.

The next few episodes begin to explore the world around Buffy and vary in tone and quality. Witch is a great early episode showing that it's not always demons behind the weeks' horror. Teacher's Pet I find fairly weak, Never Kill a Boy... also, but it shows how desperate Buffy is to be normal despite her impressive calling. I love The Pack, the gang of high school kids is believably nasty, the way they work as a team to magnify their cruelty is something I still cringe at. Angel I find largely forgettable, even though it contains the first kiss and the crucial revelation of Angel's vampire-ness and curse. The Three are a threat so briefly, but then there is Darla's ingenious attack on Joyce. Is it wrong that I find that so clever?

I Robot, You Jane works very well largely because we've already all fallen in love with Willow. She brings out the protective instincts in all of us in the early seasons. The introduction of Jenny Calendar is also timely, the lack of teachers at Sunnydale High was becoming noticeable.

The next three episodes, The Puppet Show, Nightmares and Out of Mind, Out of Sight are my picks for Season One. Although they are each standalone episodes they work well as a trilogy of sorts. Each takes a new fear and exploits it in a different way. Each has an unexpected and effective twist and each has an introduced character that we can sympathise with as well as be scared stupid by. These episodes are where BtVS really finds its feet and strides confidently.

The final episode, Prophecy Girl is a mixed bag. The Master has been a presence throughout the season, but I'm not convinced that he makes a truly convincing villain. The Anointed One is far more creepy in my book - at least he can directly confront our heroine! Yes, this episode is dramatic and scary, but it is hampered by clumsy dialogue. But it works in the end. We're rooting for Buffy the whole time as she tries to escape her destiny by quitting (although we knew she wouldn't really) and in the end she brings out the best in everyone around her.

Season One Verdict: "We saved the world. I say we party."

*Firefly excepted.

Prophecy Girl

So, the finale episode for Season 1. I've been putting off posting on this episode and I think it's mostly because I have so much to say about it but also because it would have to be up there as one of the most important episodes of the show for me (along with The Gift, Hush, The Body and I'm sure a bunch of others which I'll point out on the way). For me it's such an important episode because it sealed the deal - I was well and truly hooked on this ride by this episode. It wraps up the season - whether Buffy likes it or not, she's the Slayer and will rise to the occasion. By this episode, the Scoobies have formed a tight group. And in this episode, Joss Whedon does something that augers great great writing lies before us - he breaks the rules and kills off the main characer. You can't do that! And yet, Joss shows us that yet he can and he will and he will do it over and over and over. And he'll tease and taunt us - sometimes its the end and sometimes not and he will always leave us guessing till the very end. But the best thing about Joss is he never takes it back ('cept for that ep in Angel, but we'll get there ...)

Joss breaks all the rules, he keeps us guessing and he does it with a brilliant sense of humour.

So, the prophecy: the Master shall rise and the Slayer shall die.

Such a serious episode which opens with an ominous earthquake heralding the final days of drama and stuff and then the Master looks at the Annointed One and quips: What d'you think? 5.1?

This episode is filled with lots (more) of angst and some climax moments that we have been stumbling towards all season. Xander finally bites the bullet and puts his cards on the table with Buffy, only to be rebuffed. It's horrible and we watch and admire his bravery but squint to look away, knowing he will be turned down. Willow too gets her moment when Xander then turns to her and wants to take her to the dance instead of Buffy. We applaud Willow when she declines and wince knowing how hard that must have been to do since she really would love to go with him. It's time for me to fall hard for Willow - so strong in character, she wants Xander on her terms or not at all. Go girl power!

Buffy will face the Master and she will die - the discussion between Angel and Giles about the prophecy is the first of many instances where they try to shield Buffy from the horrible truth. They do it because they love her but in so doing, they underestimate her strength and power and wits. Again and again she thwarts the prophecies and rises to whatever challenge comes her way.

I love the bit straight after their conversation where Buffy finds out about the prophecy and tries to avoid it - she's still so young here and in a way a childis response in that she tries to run away from something that she doesn't want to have to deal with. Later on in the series, she has accepted her duty and just gets on with it. But later in the series, she has experienced the rest of this episode ... But here we see how Buffy always views "being the Chosen One" as a job and not as a birthright or a part of her makeup. It's something she shows up to do and chooses to do and therefore, at any point she has an exit or an option to decline.

Buffy: Read me the signs!
Tell me my fortune!
Giles, I'm 16 years old... I don't want to die.

Oddly, early in this episode Joyce gives Buffy her prom dress. It's an odd moment almosy the only one in the whole series where she's cool and clued up. But it also makes her one who dresses Buffy up in her "virginal sacrifice" look for the rest of the episode.

One of the memorable scenes for me is the moment where Willow realises, I think, once and for all that this is serious and real and seriously real.
Willow: I've seen so much. I thought I could take anything. This was difficult ... I'm trying to explain it so you understand ... I go to that room everyday. When I walked in, it wasn't our world anymore. They made it theirs. And they had fun. What are we going to do?
Buffy: What we have to do - and yay she's back! And she's the Buffy that we come to know and love - dong the right thing, doing what has to be done even whilst knowing it means she could/will get killed in the process.
(Willow: Buffy I like your dress)

I love Ms Calendar and so I love that this is the episode where she finally is let into the fold:
The part that gets me, though, is where Buffy is the vampire slayer. She's so little.

Ms Calendar: You fight the Master and you'll die.
Buffy: Maybe. Maybe I'll take him with me.

I love the little wave out to the Trekkies amongst us, I guess cause I am one, with the following quote:
Xander: I'm sorry, calm may work for Locutus of the Borg here,
(indicates Giles) but I'm freaked out, and I intend to stay that way.

And the slight begrudging of letting someone else into the circle:
Willow of Ms Calendar: How come she's in the club?

One of the most iconic images is Buffy as she heads off on her own to meet her destiny in white dress, leather jacket (Angel's), cross around her neck and armed with the crossbow.

When Xander goes to Angel for help to find Buffy after she leaves to take on the Master on her own we root for him for being so brave or for how deeply his love for Buffy is.
Angel: You're in love with her.
Xander: Aren't you?
I'm never really sure which it is and it has me wondering if his love for Buffy is his motive throughout the series. At this point in the show, it certainly feels that way and standing here and looking down the barrel to all that happens, it feels creepy. But I think perhaps with his falling for other girls, that must move to a platonic love because it never really feels that way later.

I love the odd moments that Joss Whedon chooses to break the fourth wall and to be self conscious and make fun of himself, like in this remark from the Master:
Oh good the feeble banter portion of the fight

And his use of humour in the oddest moments. Xander has been avoiding Angel all season because of his jealousy over Buffy. That makes this scene work so well:

Xander: You were looking at my neck.
Angel: What?
Xander: You were checking out my neck! I saw that! (starts following)
Angel: No, I wasn't!
Xander: Just keep your distance, pal.
Angel: I wasn't looking at your neck!
Xander: I told you to eat before we left.

I love the running comments on Buffy's dress all the way through. Even the Master has a go:
Master: And by the way...
She falls face down into the pool of water.
Master: I like your dress.

And she's dead. Joss actally kills off the lead character in the show named after her. Up till this point, you're sure somehow the prophecy is wrong. I mean, Buffy *can't* die, obviously. It's *her* show. And then ... she is! And what does it mean? It means all bets are off - and you always remember, throughout the series. And the other thing we learn to remember is not to take the text at face value:
Xander finally gets to kiss Buffy - by giving her the kiss of life. Just like everything in this episode, things read one way but the act means another. You can never ever get comfortable and think you know where things are at in Buffy. I really love the interesting contrast between Xander and Angel in this scene. Whilst Xander gives Buffy the kiss of life, Angel can only ever give her the kiss of eternal life (or death).

Straight after this shocking scene, we get some comic relief with Cordelia driving her car to the library. Through the school. Who pays for all the reconstruction of the school buildings after each season finale?

And then we have the climax for his scene and for the season:
Xander: No. You're still weak.
Buffy: (stops) No. No, I feel strong. I feel different.

Has her death and her revival changed her? *Is* she different? Cue the cool theme music and Buffy strutting through the streets and suddenly her virginal white dress looks wayyyy sexier. Suddenly she's more confident than we've ever seen her. Perhaps her rebirth *has* changed her. Perhaps she has finally realised that fate and destiny are hers for the taking and that prophecy is in the eye of the beholder.

Buffy: I may be dead but I'm still pretty.
Master: You were destined to die! It was written!
Buffy: What can I say? I flunked the written.

The Master's death has to be the best, most inventive, think-on-your-feet slaying of the whole series. And in a way, kind of anti-climatic - the final fight scene is not 3 minutes long.
Buffy: You're that amped about Hell... (grabs him by the neck) Go there!
And the Master gets impaled (but doesn't get dusted).

In the final scene we see that 1 (Slayer) became 4 (Watcher and two best friends), which became 6 (The Scoobies).

Buffy: Oh, sorry. It's just been a really weird day. (smiles)
Xander: Yeah! Buffy died, and everything!
Willow: Wow! Harsh.
Giles: I should have known that wouldn't stop you.

And ... after all the drama:
Buffy: Sure! We saved the world. I say we party! (looks down at her
dress) I mean, I got all pretty.
Angel: By the way, I really like your dress.
Buffy: Yeah, yeah. Big hit with everyone.

And so we are left with the dress as the final image - the virgin sacrifice which Buffy was and made but which threw the tradition on its head. Our virgin throws on a leather jacket, comes back from death and slays the monster.

And I guess that probably sums up the show pretty darn nicely.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Shiny Competition Announcement

Unfortunately, due to a lack of submissions, we are declaring the Shiny Short Story Writing competition null for 2008.

Thank you to those entries and interest we did receive.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Shiny Submission Guidelines Update

Shiny is now closed to submissions. Thank you for your support over the last two years.

Shiny is looking for fresh, entertaining stories between 2000 and 8000 words long. 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 mostly interested in stories with speculative elements - science fiction, fantasy and horror - but we're open to non-speculative stories that would appeal to genre readers [as with, for example, So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld, Boy Proof by Cecil Castelucci, or "Anda's Game" by Cory Doctorow]. 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 submissions!

Who: the editorial board consists of Alisa Krasnostein, Ben Payne and Tansy Rayner Roberts
How: send your submission in rtf attachment to Keep an eye on our blog at for more about what we're looking for.

Payment: AUS$50 per story

Rights: First International e-rights, and exclusivity for three months after first publication. We are not looking to reprint stories that have been previously published in print or online.