Last night, I had one of the most intense experiences of my life and being a hard-core Geek-and-proud-of-it sort of person, it involved both the popular media and the on-line community. This experience of which I speak? Joyce's death on the much-ballyhooed Buffy The Vampire Slayer television program.
Now you must understand some surrounding context here. I have been a faithful Buffy watcher since the very beginning -- well, almost the beginning, as I came in around the cyberdemon ep, but faithfully watched all reruns until I was caught up. Even back then, before Glory, before Spike and Dru stole my heart, before Angel even showed his ugly face, this show bore signs of perfection upon it and never let me down all the way through. Sometime along the way a friend of mine joined in my Buffy fanaticism and we started to watch the TV show together. But my friend lived an entire country away from me, so we did our viewing on-line, over a chatserver, with both of us tuned into the same program.... leading me to realise that if you ever really want a sense of Global Village, simultaneous events over the TV:// protocol help this feeling along immeasurably. Just recently we picked up a new member to our Buffy Klatch and last night was our newcomer's second ep ever of the delightful show that Joss built. Man was that ever a good jumping-on point for him.
But I'm not here to talk about him (nyah), except in the abstract. This sense of synchronicity that we share over Buffy has made the show into more than just a pastime for me; it's become an important ritual in my life and it's one that I shall dearly miss once the WB and/or Joss decide that its race is run. The only show that I've ever had this sort of feeling about has been Babylon 5 which my friends and I faithfully dissected every week, rain or shine, ping-storm or lagout. We've been watching as Joss Whedon has shattered every single formula in the television-land canon and thrilled me to the core to be watching his vision unfold. What attracted me to Babylon 5 was the sheer scope of JMS's vision and the power with which he executed it. What draws me to Buffy isn't any over-arching megaplot -- which Joss seems careful to avoid -- but for the sheer impact with which he can deal out emotional blows and present to us beautifully-directed, uncompromising viewpoints of a world filled with supernatural beings; and yet have his characters react like real, believable characters (albeit allegorically, at times) in the midst of this world.
And so over the years I have bonded with the characters on this show. There have been shows in the past which have killed off characters whom I've cared about deeply. None of those prepared me for Joyce's final episode, however; it raked me over the coals emotionally and didn't apologize once for throwing me into the quagmire. Where to begin on this master stroke? First of all, Joss has learned the lessons of silence and he's learned them well. If you saw Buffy in the past, you might have recalled a big deal being made about an episode called Hush. This fuss is fully and well deserved as the entire episode was shot almost entirely in silence, with the oh-so-talented actors meshing in gestalt with the director to make the episode grow wings based entirely upon visuals and... hunh. I can't recall whether or not there was a sound-track. I dimly recall there not being one but I don't want to swear to it. I recall things falling and breaking and the sound utterly shocking me during the episode, so I'm inclined to say that if there was music playing during Hush, it was sparse at best. Well, Joss has managed to capture the same 'do a little to say a lot' feel in last night's episode... there's almost no music playing throughout this episode. There's no artificial cue for us to know what to feel about what we're seeing. We watch this episode naked as the day we were made and this is clearly the best way to do a death. We're also constantly faced with the realisation that even if our entire world has been shattered, everyone else's still goes on as if nothing has happened. Children still play on swings. Dogs still chase mailmen. Vampires still attack little girls. No matter how much you want to scream 'why can't it *matter* to you all', you know inside that your grief is not theirs and you live in a world apart from them for a time. This was captured magnificently last night and has given me such respect for Joss' careful and deliberate direction.
We also finally got to see a slice of Dawn's life outside of the house. This slice of sweet pie was served up to us just after the opening tragedy (which, incidentally, showcased Sarah's acting abilities in a whole new light, as she had the unenviable task of playing Buffy gone into shock. If she doesn't win some award for this, I'm going to... going to... crud, I don't follow awards. Right then, I hereby award Sarah a Golden Frobozz for 'Best Fscking Stretching of Her Range' for the years 1899-2001, inclusive. I might be going overboard, but damn it, last night's episode has me reeling). This slice of life is tinted entirely as you know... you know what's coming, but until the slice of normalcy is done, you just have to feel growing dread for the poor little Girl Who Would Be Key. Buffy's telling of Dawn is done entirely via Silent Window (IE, you watch the scene from the POV of someone on the other side of a windowpane, so you don't hear anything -- an incredibly affective technique when it is done with a talented director and cast, and a total waste of space and time when not); rather than tell the audience what we already know, we're submerged fully into the emotions of the characters this time. When Buffy discovers that she's lost her mother, we discover this along with her... we feel the same shock... we're there with her, begging for EMS to make everything all right, and we finally have to accept that yes... she's gone. When Dawn receives the news, we're again in Buffy's shoes, wondering how we could have broken the news to our little sister and knowing that no matter how it was said, it would have hurt this badly. There's no need for words. The emotions say it all, and we're riding alongside of those emotions.
The Scooby Squad (which is a pet name for Buffy's vamp-slaying helper-friends) all shine in this episode too, as each one brings out a new side to him or herself. Giles doesn't get much air-time in this ep, but his showing in the very beginning is strong and powerful and you can see him slip firmly into the father figure whom Buffy has lost (in her father) and been denied (when the John-Ritterbot showed up and tried to take Joyce from her). You do realise that if Dawn 'goes away' due to her Key-y status, Buffy's going to be completely alone, don't you? It's a frightening thought, and one hopes that Giles will be there to pick up the pieces. I do wish that Giles had dealt with the fact that he'd just lost the woman with whom he'd once been intimate, but I have a feeling that we'll see into the mind of the ex-Watcher very shortly. Xander, our classic lovable buffoon who still manages to get things right, discovers that he can't deflect this with humour... can't keep it from touching him. He also manages to display all of the various signs of dealing with tragos, such as denial (no, this is the work of the supernatural, it has to be), bargaining (it was the doctors who did it, it had to be), anger (putting his fist through the wall), acceptance (when the squad finally agree to be there for Buffy), etc. Willow is forced to deconstruct her life, as she finds her wardrobe too 'cute' for a visit to the morgue. This isn't as flip as it sounds... she suddenly hits a great deal of anger over not being able to serve as an adult and takes it all out upon herself. Anya... oh poor Anya. She starts off fooling the audience into thinking that she's being her usual, cluelessly arrogant self, but inside she's wrestling with the terror and horror of loss of a loved one -- and she's never known loss before. Further, she's not insulted by normal, human coping mechanisms, so she's trying to deal with the events by out and out emulation of what's going on around her. Her breakdown scene was a master-work. The character's evolution in this one piece is simply incredible. Finally, Tara, sweet Tara absolutely shines as she gets some actual emotion time. I wish she'd be allowed to do this more often.
Have you ever lost someone? I have. All of this... is so true to life. There's so little artificiality to this episode.
There's more to this episode that I should ramble on about. A lot more. But I can't right now as I realise that each line of thought I hit leads to three more and I have to finish this entry soon, or else risk hot tears all over again. If you haven't seen the Buffy Franchise, now's the time to do so. If you have, then I certainly hope you'll write to me and tell me what you thought of last night's episode. At any rate, peace and love my friends. Let us all have a moment of silence for the passing of a friend of ours.Back to ramblings
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