Saturday, June 2, 2012

"Shadow" (Buffy 5.8): An episode that's almost awesome

So now that we're back on the micro-level of season 5, I should remind you of two things: The Joyce Health Watch and the Riley Douche Watch. Both are trending downwards.

There's horror, and then there's the truly scary.
Or a split, in the sense that Riley is becoming more of a tool with each passing moment.

And his leather jacket is so much lamer than either Angel's or Spike's.

But Joyce, damn, those headaches aren't going away, and this episode explicitly rhymes her worsening health with Buffy's increasing sense of impotence not only to help her mom, but to defeat Glory. We still don't know quite what she is, aside from an ass-kicker. If this season were to fully explore this trope--the maddening and inescapable frailty of the human body as the *real* Big Bad--I think it could have been as good as season 4. But just when the show gets thisclose to difficult and complicated, here comes a ginormous cobra monster. So, without further ado, the Buffy guide to setting up, then mucking up, an inspired metaphor.

DO twin the confusion over Joyce's condition with the unknowability of Glory. The titular "shadow" of this episode comes from an ominous spot on Joyce's CAT scan. She doesn't know quite what it is, or even where it is in her own head, only that a biopsy and exploratory surgery is immediate and necessary. This helpless confusion is familiar to anyone dealing with health scares, and even rehearses a postmodern Don DeLillo-esque alienation from one's own body.

This scene is beautifully shot.

The threatening strangeness is echoed in the Scoobies hitting a brick wall in trying to decipher who or what Glory is. They "don't know what they're dealing with" in this situation either, and by the end of the episode only apprehend that they are battling something older than language itself. Like death. And like grief.

They know nothing about her . . . including that she's in the freaking Magic Box right now.

DO lighten the mood with a bit of Spike sweater-sniffing.

This speaks for itself.

DON'T distract me from the awesomeness with Riley Rage. This is the episode where Captain Cardboard truly enters the bell jar. His petulant poutiness over Buffy not "needing him" enough when her mother is, you know, IN THE THROES OF A LIFE-THREATENING DISEASE also finds its metaphorical embodiment in a truly disturbing encounter with a vampire. Not just because she bites him and he stakes her. Whatever. I don't care. What creeps me out about this is it's so clearly a metonym for Riley's ideal relationship: Girl relies on him for literal survival. He gets off on that. It's so much sicker than Angelus's convent fetish, and that's saying something.

Pictured: A live-action version of the "What I'm Into" section of Riley's OkCupid profile.

And OF COURSE he gets to wield a big old phallus--the very part of himself that Buffy's superior strength threatens.

Jenn's Riley Rant is so righteous it is worth quoting in full:

He is such a total shit! I mean choosing NOW to go through with his vamp infidelity is so selfish. He just can't get it through his self-absorbed, self-pitying, immature head that what's going on with Buffy right now is SO NOT ABOUT HIM! God, he just thoroughly pissed me off. I mean poor baby, he lost his special powers and doesn't know what to do with himself, you know what? He needs to grow the fuck up. Find a hobby. Be a support to your girlfriend whose mom's sick. Help out at the magic shop. Go back to school. Get a job. There are a plethora of options that don't involve going off and blowing up vampires or serving as a pincushion for one of them.

See why I love re-watching with this girl? 

DON'T cheapen the whole damn thing with bad special effects. So the main narrative thrust of this episode has Glory mutating a cobra to try and find the Dawn Key. And the cobra is Just. So. Stupid.

It looks like a cast member from Jersey Shore.

Even Buffy's clear projection of rage at her mother's illness onto the monster is undercut by its ridiculous little T-Rex arms and glowing devil eyes. Jenn also makes a good point that Buffy's turn to violence born of frustration and sadness with the stupid cobra monster makes a reappearance with her treatment of Spike in season 6. And speaking of season 6 . . .

Something we need to keep an eye on: Spike's take-down of Riley after he catches him sniffing said sweater is awesome not least because he calls him white bread, but troubling too. He identifies the fatal flaw in his relationship with Buffy as Riley's lack of darkness. Basically, that Buff likes a little monster in her man. Though relatively benign here (and debatable--I think Riley's little vamp problem is much sicker than loving a vampire with a soul), it's this kind of love mixed with self-loathing that will muddy the waters between Spike and Buffy but good in season 6.

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