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In Every Generation: 10 Years After Buffy

It’s been exactly 10 years since “Chosen,” the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, first aired on UPN. I started watching Buffy in its third season, after my sister convinced me to watch some of the season two episodes she had on tape over the summer. It became my favourite show, which it remains to this day. Although Buffy definitely has its flaws (most of them in season seven), I still haven’t found a show that can top it in its best moments. I love the show’s combination of serious drama and silly comedy, its large family of complex characters, many of whom have very interesting story arcs, and of course that excellent Joss Whedon dialogue.

To celebrate the anniversary of the end of Buffy, I’ve put together a quick list of five of my favourite Buffy moments. This is a bit of a random list: I wanted to stay away from the obvious, so I’ve tried avoid all the major events from season finales and that kind of thing. One of the great things about Buffy, after all, is that it did little moments just as well as it did big ones. The whole “high school is hell” premise of the show is based on the idea that the ordinary things in life can have massive significance. Although some of my choices come from important episodes or are big events in the context of the show, they all stand out to me for packing a big punch on a relatively smaller scale.

Xander and Tara in The Body.

“It hurts.”  “The Body” is an episode that’s explicitly built on small moments, and this is a very small scene I find particularly striking. After Xander pulls his hand out of the wall he’s punched, Tara looks at him and simply says, “It hurts.” Just stating the obvious. But coming from Tara, perhaps the most open and kind soul on the show, it means a lot more. The way Xander looks at her after she says it, it’s like he’s seeing her for the first time. Xander and Tara’s relationship is not one the show spends much time exploring; by comparison, Willow and Anya’s somewhat rocky relationship is far more developed. In this moment, though, we know he gets her.

Jonathan presents Buffy with the Class Protector Award at the prom.

Buffy Gets One Perfect High School Moment. Buffy is both an ordinary teenaged girl and a heroine with a grand destiny; generally, much to her dismay, the heroine part gets in the way of the other stuff. By the time graduation rolls around, Buffy has pretty much given up on ever fitting in at Sunnydale High or making her mark on the school in traditional ways like being Homecoming Queen or even having her picture in the yearbook. In “The Prom,” she must save the prom from a demon attack — once again giving up her own shot at an ordinary high school experience in order to preserve it for everyone else. (“No! You guys are going to have a prom. The kind of prom that everyone should have. I’m going to give you all a nice, fun, normal evening if I have to kill every single person on the face of the earth to do it.”) Much to her surprise, though, it turns out Buffy’s classmates have in fact noticed her: after a spontaneous write-in campaign, the class of 99 presents her with the Class Protector Award in recognition of her heroism. It’s a lovely gesture by the students and it makes me cry every time I watch the episode.

Giles in Dead Man's Party.

“Welcome home, Buffy.” When Buffy returns to Sunnydale in “Dead Man’s Party” after her lost summer, everyone is really, really mean to her over the fact that she disappeared for months and didn’t tell them where she went. Everyone, that is, except Giles, who is just very relieved and happy to have her back safely. In public, he’s calm and unemotional. In private, he takes a moment to let himself smile. I love how much Giles cares for Buffy — he is the only person who both fully understands her and loves her unconditionally — and this is a very sweet demonstration of it.

Buffy and Spike in Fool for Love.

“Is there something I can do?” In the end I suppose Spike comes close to matching Giles’ love for Buffy (although in a very different way). This scene from the end of “Fool for Love,” in which Spike sits quietly with Buffy while she allows herself a private moment of weakness over her mother’s illness, speaks volumes about their relationship. For one thing, they’ve spent the whole episode fighting and he stopped by with the intention of killing her. This is also a preview of season six, where Spike becomes Buffy’s go-to non-person for escape from a harsh reality. Spike’s desire to be worthy in Buffy’s eyes ultimately leads to a very grand gesture, but it all starts with a bit of silent, friendly comfort.

Buffy in The I in Team.

Buffy Takes The Initiative. This one isn’t as emotional as all my other picks. In this scene from “The I in Team,” Buffy attends a briefing at the headquarters of The Initiative. I’ve always found this scene hilarious just because of the image of Buffy in her orange halter top standing with all those commando guys. Aside from being funny, though, it also provides a nice visual summary of the entire conflict of season four, with Buffy’s feminine, mystical, “unpredictable” energy noticeably disrupting the male, technological, structured Initiative way of doing things. Buffy’s insistence on asking questions gets laughs from the soldiers at this point, but it’s her undoing with Professor Walsh later in this very episode. Season four is Buffy‘s most underrated year, in my opinion: The Initiative storyline, which is extremely well-developed over the season, explores some very interesting issues and this is a key scene from a key episode.

What are your favourite smaller Buffy moments?

Marvel Movies Project: Blade II

The third film in the Marvel Movies Project is also the first of many Marvel sequels: Blade II (2002), in which we rejoin Blade and Whistler in a new adventure.

Blade II movie poster

Yes, Whistler, thought dead at the end of Blade, actually sort of survived his self-inflicted gunshot wound. Sort of, because Whistler is now a vampire and being held captive by some other vampires. Blade’s first order of business in Blade II is to find him and administer what I assume is the cure for vampirism developed by Karen in Blade. Once Whistler is back in action, he, Blade, and their new ally Scud — who, in Whistler’s absence, has taken over as Blade’s weapons guy, but he’s younger so he knows more about technology — are approached by a group of elite vampire assassins called the Bloodpack who want to join forces with them in order to defeat a new breed of super vampire called Reapers. Why are these vampires interested in killing other vampires? Well, because the Reapers feed on regular vampires. A further twist: the Bloodpack was formed with the purpose of killing Blade himself. Awkward.

Having decided that the Reapers are a worse scourge on humanity than the regular vamps, Blade teams up with this squad of people who want him dead. One of their leaders is Nyssa (played by Leonor Varela, the original Marta from Arrested Development), a scientist vampire who is the daughter of a vampire nobleman. Nyssa, it turns out, is pretty nice for a vampire. She’s also pretty pretty, and she becomes the closest thing Blade has to a love interest this time around. Nyssa is a fairly interesting character; she’s a scientist, she’s a good soul, and she makes a daring decision to go against her father and sacrifice her own life at the end of the film. But, she’s no Karen Jenson from Blade. I don’t understand why Karen didn’t make it to the sequel. I liked her.

Anyways, Blade and the Bloodpack discover that sunlight is the only conventional vampire-killing method that works on the Reapers. With help from a sunlight bomb developed by Scud, they start taking out the super vamps. There is a very long sewer battle sequence, and then it is revealed that the Reapers are actually a creation of Nyssa’s father Damaskinos, who has been conducting genetic experiments with the goal of creating a vampire without weaknesses. (Another result of his experiments: a bunch of vampire fetuses in jars. Ewww.) Blade’s blood, naturally, would be of great use to Damaskinos in this project so, just as he did in Blade, our hero finds himself being bled. After being rescued by Whistler, Blade takes a dip in a blood pool and emerges even more awesome than before. Carnage ensues, the Reapers are defeated, and Blade goes back to killing regular vampires. Bonus: the elite squad of killer vampires specifically created to kill Blade has been completely eliminated through a combination of Reaper activity, suicide, and being killed by Blade.

Maybe it’s just the fact that I love Buffy, but I spotted some Buffy similarities in Blade II, just as I did in Blade — the main one being that the super vamps are quite similar to the uber vamps in Buffy‘s regrettable seventh season. Blade II came out in March 2002; Buffy season seven started in September of the same year. Perhaps Blade II provided some inspiration for the Buffy team. In what may be a gesture of solidarity between slayers, Blade II seems to pay tribute Blade’s little sis: I can’t help feeling Blade’s sword-grabbing power shot is a nod to the almost identical shot of Buffy from “Becoming, Part 2” (an episode which also features a character named Whistler).

Blade and Buffy take matters into their own hands.

But it could be my imagination.

The other thing with obvious ties to Blade II is Hellboy: Guillermo del Toro directed both movies; Ron Perlman, who played Hellboy, also plays Blade’s Bloodpack nemesis Reinhardt (he’s the one holding the sword) in Blade II; Hellboy creator Mike Mignola was a concept artist on Blade II; and Scud wears a B.P.R.D. t-shirt throughout the movie.

I didn’t think Blade II was quite as good as Blade, but it has its moments of greatness. The last half hour or so, after Blade regains his full strength and starts kicking ass again, is the best part. Wesley Snipes, it must be said, is a total badass, and his performance is definitely one of the highlights of the Blade films.

By contrast, there is very little badassery involved in the performance of the lead actor in our next Marvel movie, which came out less than two months after Blade II in 2002: it’s Spider-Man, the first film to feature the wall-crawling character who is probably Marvel’s most popular creation (and my personal favourite).

Marvel Movies Project: Blade

Last week I started talking with one of my co-workers about Marvel movies, from the early days when Sony was making big money off the X-Men and Spider-Man to the birth of Marvel Studios and the very impressive feat they’ve been able to pull off with the creation of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” and the buildup to The Avengers. I started thinking back to how much I’ve enjoyed some of the Marvel movies, and wondered how many there were and whether I’ve seen them all.

An idea was born: wouldn’t it be fun to go back and (re)watch all 27 — it turns out there are 27! — of the modern Marvel movies? I say (re)watch because in fact there are three films (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Punisher: War Zone, and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) I have never seen.

Yes, I concluded! It would be fun! And what would make it even more fun would be to write a blog post about each movie as I go! So, I started this project on Saturday evening by watching Blade, which I was able to purchase in HD from the iTunes store for the low, low price of $6.99.

Blade (1998)

It’s true that there had been a few Marvel movies before Blade was released in 1998, but other than multiple Razzie Award winner Howard the Duck (1986) and The Punisher (1989), which was never released theatrically in the US, nothing had made it to the big screen since the 1940s film serial starring Captain America. Blade, which cost about $45 million to produce and made $70 million at the box office, was the film that really brought Marvel to the movie industry’s attention. In his book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Sean Howe quotes former Marvel CEO Avi Arad as saying that it was the fact that Blade the film succeeded despite Blade the character’s relative lack of popularity which really helped sell the Marvel brand: “Blade was the least likely to succeed … That was the first time it seemed clear to Hollywood that the Marvel franchise was something special” (p. 396). It’s a lesson Hollywood seems to have absorbed: post-Blade, at least one film featuring a Marvel character has been released to theatres every year except 1999 and 2001.

The title character in Blade is played with a humourous intensity by Wesley Snipes, who rocks an intriguingly geometric haircut for the role, or maybe that’s just Wesley Snipes’ normal hair. Blade has certain supernatural abilities brought on by the fact that his mother was bitten by a vampire while pregnant with him. His vampire side gives him accelerated healing and elevated strength, but he has escaped most of the vampires’ weaknesses: he is immune to garlic, silver, and sunlight — hence, he is called the Daywalker. Unfortunately, he does have a thirst for human blood which he controls by means of some kind of serum administered by his mentor and co-vampire fighter Whistler (Kris Kristofferson). The villain of the piece is Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), a young upstart among the leaders of the vampire world who is frustrated by the undead establishment’s desire to maintain a low profile. (The elite ruling class Frost is in conflict with is kind of like the Volturi in Twilight that way. Dammit, I try not to think about the fact that I’ve read those books.) Frost wants to make a splash by awakening La Magra, the blood god, who will help the vampires claim their rightful place at the top of the food chain. Mixed up in all this is Dr. Karen Jenson, played by N’Bushe Wright, a hematologist rescued by Blade at the beginning of the movie. She teams up with Blade and Whistler to stop Frost and perhaps develop a cure for vampirism.

I had not seen Blade since around the time it was first released. Although it is the forefather of all Marvel movies, it’s also very different from most of them in the level of violence and gore portrayed, not to mention the swearing; if it were a comic book, it would definitely be published by Marvel Max. It seems ridiculous to comment on the presence of blood in a vampire movie, but Blade really is drenched in the stuff right from the opening vampire rave “blood bath” scene to the very disgusting exploding vampires in the final battle. Visually, the film has a dark and gritty yet clean and modern style that is similar to the still-filming-when-Blade-was-released The Matrix, but without the greenish tint and innovative effects.

The other pop culture favourite I thought of while watching Blade is the greatest vampire slayer story ever told: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Nikki Wood, one of the Slayers who preceded Buffy, is rather Blade-like: obviously, they’re both vampire slayers. They both wear long black leather jackets. And they’re both associated with the 70s: Blade’s first appearance in the comics was in Tomb of Dracula #10, published in July 1973, and Nikki is shown in the Buffy episode “Fool for Love” to have died in 1977. Plus, according to the Buffy novel Blackout by Keith R.A. DeCandido, she was called to be the Slayer in February of 1973 — perhaps a reference to Blade’s debut that same year. The Nikki/Blade similarity was also referenced in the Buffy comics: artist Georges Jeanty’s variant cover for issue #6 of Buffy season 9 is an homage to the cover of Tomb of Dracula #10. There’s a bit of Blade in Nikki’s son, vampire-hunter-slash-high-school-principal Robin Wood, too. Just as Blade’s mother was killed by a vampire, so was Principal Wood’s. Though he has no special powers, Wood was trained to fight vampires by his mother’s Watcher.

Spike and Nikki Wood in "Fool for Love."

But the Woods aren’t the only Buffy characters who have a lot in common with Blade: there’s also Spike, the vampire who killed Nikki. Like Blade and like Nikki, Spike wears a long black leather jacket — a jacket he stole from Nikki Wood after killing her; also like Blade, Spike controls his thirst for blood by artificial means (although in Spike’s case, this is involuntary). Blade, Spike, and Robin Wood are further linked by the fairly serious mother issues they share. Wood’s issue is that his mother never loved him quite enough: she prioritized her Slayer mission over her son and left him behind in order to go fight vampires. Blade discovers late in the film that SPOILER! the mother he thought dead has actually been living as a vampire all this time, having abandoned him when she turned. Even worse, his enemy Deacon Frost is the one who bit her, which results in a very unsettling extended family situation where Frost is essentially the “father” of Blade’s vampire side. When Blade encounters his vampire mother, it makes for rather uncomfortable viewing as she behaves in a creepily sexual manner towards her son. The Buffy episode “Lies My Parents Told Me,” which shows parallel flashbacks of Spike and Robin Wood’s pasts with their mothers, reveals that Spike went through a very similar situation: he turned his own mother into a vampire and once her demon side took over, she rejected him cruelly before making some extremely inappropriate advances towards him.

One other thing Blade and Nikki and Robin Wood have in common: they’re all black. Blade was the first and is still one of only three non-ensemble Marvel movies to feature a black protagonist (the other two being … Blade II and Blade: Trinity, so that’s still just the one guy then). Blade includes a veritable plethora of important non-white characters by comic book movie standards: the female lead, Karen, is also black, as is Blade’s mother, Vanessa. Karen is noteworthy, too, for being quite a satisfying example of a strong female character. She’s presented as smart and accomplished in her career, she shows very little fear when dealing with vampires, and she gets herself out of a few difficult scrapes without having to wait for Blade to rescue her. It’s nice.

All in all, Blade is a very entertaining movie with good characters played by a solid cast, a stylish look that has aged well, and a decent script. It’s definitely not the best ever Marvel movie, but it was a strong start to the modern era of Marvel on film.

Next up: Hugh Jackman dons Wolverine’s claws for the first of five (so far) times in X-Men.

Mis-shapes, Mistakes, Misfits

A friend linked me to a blog post called Harry Potter: The Anti-Geek the other day. The author of the post argues that Harry Potter and his friends do not fit in with the “band of misfits” trope that commonly shows up in the fantasy genre; specifically, she cites the Scooby Gang from Buffy the Vampire Slayer as an example of the type of group of social outcasts which Harry and friends are not. Seeing as Buffy and Harry Potter are two of my favourite things and I love comparing them, I have some thoughts on this subject.

I can’t disagree with the main point the author makes about Harry himself: I wouldn’t call him a nerd or a geek. It’s true that Harry is a jock, and that his fame and wealth give him some social status in the wizarding world. Some of the author’s other arguments, however, are more debatable. For example:

Harry and Ron, on the other hand, are more stereotypical privileged young men who only put forward a C effort in school because they know they can coast into adulthood on their families’ reputation.

This, I think, is blatantly wrong. First of all, the suggestion that Ron can coast through life on the Weasley family reputation seems dubious at best. The Weasleys are pure-bloods, but they are also poor, and we learn that Bill, Charlie, and Percy all work for a living after they graduate from Hogwarts. Arthur Weasley, meanwhile, is viewed by the wizarding community as an oddball (perhaps even … a misfit) because of his interest in Muggles. There is some suggestion that his obsession has even held him back at work.

I also think it’s unfair to condemn Harry and Ron as slackers. Sure, they might sleep through History of Magic — to be fair, everyone except Hermione also sleeps through that class — and BS their way through Divination — a subject even Hermione thinks is a load of crap —  but they work hard in the classes they enjoy, and there are many instances in the books where we see the two of them working frantically at their schoolwork. Are they more likely to skip doing homework than Hermione is? Yes. Is almost everyone else at Hogwarts also more likely to skip doing homework than Hermione is? Well, yes. She’s Hermione. I will agree that Harry and Ron may not be the most academically-inclined people in the world, but then neither are their Scooby Gang counterparts, Buffy and Xander.

And what of Hermione? I would think someone who loves schoolwork and reading as much as she does must have some nerd cred, but according to the author Hermione “still doesn’t rise to the level of a true geek character” because she’s beautiful and she dates Viktor Krum. This is a stretch. Hermione might grow up to be attractive, but she is explicitly described as being quite mousy in the first few books. The reaction from other Hogwarts students when she shows up at the Yule Ball looking pretty borders on cruel: Parvati gapes at her in “unflattering disbelief” that that’s Hermione Granger. As for Viktor Krum, while he’s certainly dashing on a broomstick, Harry notes that he’s much less impressive with his feet on the ground. It is possible that Krum himself is a bit of a misfit who just happens to be a world famous Quidditch player, too. At any rate: if the Scooby Gang is the standard by which all bands of misfits are to be judged, then I must admit that I’m struggling to see much of a difference in this respect between Hermione and her Scooby equivalent, Willow, who dates (ye gads!) a musician.

Regarding Harry himself: as several commenters on the original post pointed out, it’s worth noting that he spends significant parts of the series being shunned because many of his classmates suspect him of being evil (Chamber of Secrets), wildly egotistical (Goblet of Fire), or deranged (Order of the Phoenix). Clearly, the special status Harry gains from being “the boy who lived” is not always a positive thing: just like Buffy, whose gifts make her a social outcast, Harry often feels like a freak. Think about how many times he faints or has a Voldemort-related seizure in public over the course of the series. That’s got to be more than a little embarrassing for a teenager. Before he came to the wizarding world, too, Harry was most definitely a misfit: he was forced to wear Dudley’s hand-me-downs and was constantly bullied by Dudley and his friends, who made sure that Harry had no friends of his own. It’s this aspect of Harry’s background that I think defines how he perceives himself, much more than his new status in the wizarding world as a star athlete and celebrity.

Aside from all that, what really made me react to this blog post is that I have always considered the wider social circles within which the Scooby trio and the Potter trio move to be extremely similar precisely because the two heroes share an ability to look past a misfit-like exterior and see an individual’s true value. Neville is probably the nerdiest kid in Gryffindor and Luna is, let’s face it, a total weirdo, but they both become valued and well-liked friends to the trio. Anya may be a strangely literal ex-demon with little understanding of human customs, but she’s on Buffy’s team. Faith and Andrew are both former villains who find a place in the group.

This ability to be accepting of difference extends to looking past the conventional wisdom on the supposedly innate characteristics of various magical or supernatural creatures. For Buffy, this means taking Angel, a vampire, as an ally. The rest of the Scooby Gang is (mostly) comfortable with having Angel on the team, but Kendra can’t understand this at all: to her, all vampires are just plain evil and should always be killed. In season four, a similar situation arises when Riley finds out that Oz is a werewolf. His Initiative training makes him question why Buffy would associate with such a creature, but Buffy and the others know Oz as a person and ultimately Riley comes around. There is an obvious Potter parallel to this in Prisoner of Azkaban when Professor Lupin is revealed to be a werewolf: Ron, raised with the belief that werewolves are evil, is initially repulsed when he learns the truth, but in the end Lupin remains a trusted friend to the group. Harry, Ron, and Hermione also understand that although Hagrid is half giant, he is a kind and goodhearted person; that Dobby is not merely a slave, but an ally and friend who deserves the respect of a proper burial. Griphook, used to being treated as a lower life form, is obviously struck by Harry’s behaviour, commenting that his actions in Dobby’s case mark him as a very “unusual” wizard. Spike, meanwhile, who is despised and rejected by almost everyone, tells Buffy: “I know that I’m a monster, but you treat me like a man.”

To my mind, the fact that Harry and Buffy’s evil-fighting social circles are inclusive, taking in the social outcasts and misfits others might perceive as having no value, is one of the things that makes them so similar as characters.

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People in the opening credits aren’t supposed to die.

It’s been interesting reading what people are saying online today about last night’s episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones.  The episode, entitled “Baelor,” is the penultimate episode of Thrones‘ season, and featured the death of a major character. (Don’t worry: I’ll warn you before I spoil anything more than that.) Reactions are passionate and very mixed, ranging from “It was absolutely brilliant! This is the best show on TV!” to “I’ll never watch that show again and also, I’ve cancelled HBO.”

All this fuss about the death of a character brings to my mind Joss Whedon’s famous line about the writer’s duty to give the audience the story it needs, as opposed to the story it wants, or thinks it wants. Talking about how his fans’ reactions to his work affect him, Whedon said:

It always affects me. At the same time, I need to give them what they need, not what they want. They need to have their hearts broken. They need to see change. They hated Oz, and then they hated that he left. These things are inevitable. If people are freaking out, I’m good. If people are going, “Hmmm…well, that was fine,” I’m fucked. (Source.)

There’s no doubt here that Joss Whedon is a master at breaking fans’ hearts. I remember watching the first season of Angel and being absolutely devastated by Doyle’s death, so much so that I think I even stopped watching the show at that point. (I picked it up again during season three.) Doyle was in the opening credits, and was positioned as a main character on the show. He was featured in all the promotional material. He was given backstory. Most of all, he was a nice guy and the audience liked him. And then, in episode nine, he died. People were not happy: this article published at the time that sums up the reactions to Doyle’s death.

You could basically take that article, switch out “Doyle” for the name of the deceased Game of Thrones character, and get an accurate recap of the reactions to this most recent TV death. It seems that not much has changed in the 11 years since Joss Whedon killed off Doyle. (Sidenote: I can’t believe it’s been that long.) To paraphrase Zap2it’s TV Gal (Amy Amatangelo), you don’t kill people who are in the opening credits! It just isn’t done! TV Gal wrote this in reference to the shocking death of a major character in the first season of 24:

Didn’t they know the rules? People in the opening credits aren’t supposed to die. We now take it for granted that those who come in contact with Jack Bauer often don’t live to tell the tale. But in the show’s first season, it was a brave and risky move that proved no one is safe in Jack’s world and there would never be such a thing as job security on the popular FOX series. (Source.)

Looking at the anger the producers of Angel and Game of Thrones have faced over killing off major characters … well, yeah. Apparently axing an important and well-liked cast member is just about the bravest and riskiest thing a TV showrunner can do.

I understand being distraught and/or enraged about the death of a favourite character, but I’m no longer inclined to stop watching something just because a person I liked died, as I did back in the day with Angel. I don’t mind a little darkness in my stories. I don’t expect everyone to live happily ever after. Sometimes character death pushes a story forward in really fascinating ways. Angel (a different death), Six Feet Under, and Dexter come to mind. Having read the novel on which Game of Thrones is based, I know for sure that last night’s death was necessary.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! Behind the jump, the name of the character who died on last night’s Game of Thrones is revealed.

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