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Thread: BtVS rewatch: SEASON 6

  1. #181
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    Hey Guy!

    Great first review - fun snark and sniping of one of the most unloved episodes of the Buffyverse along with Beer Bad. I recognized the Phantom Menace review quote right away with the son in the bathroom line. Your pics were very funny - I laughed out loud at the Emperor Palpatine look.

    Agreed that the episode has many flaws - although there are some great things in it too. And I agree that Season Six itself in some ways does destroy the old formula of Buffy - which explains its many fans and detractors as doing such a thing polarizes opinion just a little bit!

    Would love to hear more about your thoughts on Dawn and Connor - agreed that the various attempts to bring in a younger demographic to Buffy were not totally successful. Please post! Will respond more later - but wanted to give some immediate feedback.

    And wish everyone on the Buffy Forum a happy Passover/Easter/spring break holiday!

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  3. #182
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    The thing I remember most about All the Way is that that a vampire gets slain by having a car door slammed on its head (or is that neck?). That's just sad.

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  5. #183
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    I thought It was great!

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  7. #184
    Sunnydale High Student Guy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by American Aurora View Post
    Hey Guy!

    Great first review - fun snark and sniping of one of the most unloved episodes of the Buffyverse along with Beer Bad. I recognized the Phantom Menace review quote right away with the son in the bathroom line. Your pics were very funny - I laughed out loud at the Emperor Palpatine look.

    Agreed that the episode has many flaws - although there are some great things in it too. And I agree that Season Six itself in some ways does destroy the old formula of Buffy - which explains its many fans and detractors as doing such a thing polarizes opinion just a little bit!

    Would love to hear more about your thoughts on Dawn and Connor - agreed that the various attempts to bring in a younger demographic to Buffy were not totally successful. Please post! Will respond more later - but wanted to give some immediate feedback.

    And wish everyone on the Buffy Forum a happy Passover/Easter/spring break holiday!
    Thank you for the kind words!

    You can always trust ol' Palpie to bring the chuckles

    I actually LOVE 'Beer Bad'. It's silly and hilarious, not unlike 'Smile Time' or 'Band Candy'.


    Dawn and Connor... Well, first of all, let's dispell a common myth - Dawn and Connor were NOT meant to bring in the "younger crowd". I mean, I don't know what went on in the writers' heads when they introduced these two, but still - the characters are written in a way that is clearly not designed to attract young fans. Dawn and Connor's REAL purpose is to further the arcs of Buffy and Angel, respectively. It's a common trope - when a character gets older, the writers give it a child (or something resembling a child, like a younger sister, or an adopted daughter, or something), to show the main character's growth, and to serve as its familial bond. In other words - Dawn wasn't meant to be a new Buffy for the younger fans, she was meant to be the new Joyce, who supports the story of Buffy. Connor and Dawn are just like X-23 in 'Logan', or Harley in 'Iron Man 3', or Carrie Kelley in 'The Dark Knight Returns', or (most successfully, in my opinion) Ciri from 'The Witcher'. They serve the same function in old characters' stories that parents (like Aunt May, or Joyce, or Mufasa, or Dumbledore, etc...) serve in younger characters' stories. They're not there to draw in other audiences, they're there to service the main characters' story.

    If you want to know how I would change Dawn and Connor if I could, then just look at the character of Ciri, from the 'Witcher' franchise. She's the most perfect example of this trope that I know. Here's a taste:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1sk8KesUN8

    I'd like to note two main things that the character of Ciri does well, and how they fare in Dawn's and Connor's cases:

    1) The child character should NOT be a permanent damsel in distress. It's okay if the child needs saving every once in a while (EVERY character needs saving every once in a while), especially in the beginning, but it must NOT be a permanent trait. In other words - you shouldn't reach a point in which Buffy says: "So, Dawn's in trouble. Must be Tuesday" (although that IS a hilarious line). This is something that Dawn struggles with, while Ciri and Connor do not. The reason is simple - Ciri and Connor are proficient warriors (And in Ciri's case, we also see HOW she becomes a skilled warrior, slowly and gradually, which is better than Connor's "I was trained off-screen by Holtz" situation), while Dawn remains pretty powerless throughout (Season 8 actually fixed this problem temporarily, with Dawn's giant phase). A powerless character is a permanent damsel-in-distress, and that's not good. It's okay for characters like Buffy's Xander and Angel's Cordelia, who were the comic relief and the human heart of the group, but it's not okay in the child characters, who are supposed to be more central to the story. Child characters mustn't be permanent damsels-in-distress, or the audience will resent them.

    2) The child character must resemble the main character in many things, but it must be its complete opposite in one thing - the child character will be lively and cheery and energetic, while the main character will be world-weary and grim and reserved. This is something that Dawn and Ciri do very well, but Connor fails completely. Buffy becomes a grim and weary character in the later seasons, while Dawn is lively and energetic. Geralt (the main character of the 'Witcher' series) is a gruff and grim old man, while Ciri is a lively and idealistic young woman. Angel is also grim and weary and broody, which is good (Err, it's good for this particular type of storytelling, anyway), but Connor is NOT his opposite in this regard, which is BAD. Connor isn't lively and cheery and energetic - he's just as grim and broody as Angel. As Willow says - "the sneer is genetic". Without this contrast, the relationship can't work. Connor doesn't help the audience see a new facet of Angel's personality - he just makes us see more broodiness and stoic-ness from Angel, and we've seen that already.
    Fortunately, the writers eventually noticed this mistake, and fixed it - in 'Home', Connor got a brand new personality, and this time it was a true contrast to Angel. The new Connor was lively and cheery and energetic, and when this new Connor interacted with Angel, he helped us see a new facet of Angel's personality - a warmer, more human side of Angel. The new Connor helped push Angel's story forward, and thus, unsurprisingly, Connor became a much more popular character (or, at least, a less hated one).

    Those are my two cents, anyway. Which are really just a very lengthy way of saying that you should all play 'The Witcher: Wild Hunt', because it's awesome

    Quote Originally Posted by Skippcomet View Post
    The thing I remember most about All the Way is that that a vampire gets slain by having a car door slammed on its head (or is that neck?). That's just sad.
    Yeah, this episode actually has a really well-executed fight scene, considering how lame the story is. The first half of season 6 is probably the most expensive-looking part of the entire show - all that new UPN money went to good use.
    Last edited by Guy; 16-04-17 at 01:52 PM.
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  9. #185
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    I've finally found the time to warm up the DVDs and watch the ep. Hopefully I'll get the chance to read/respond over the next couple of days.

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    Hey Guy. A big thank you for joining us and contributing your time/thoughts in a review. All The Way isn't the best episode in S6 for sure, but as always I just hunker down with you all and grab my mining gear to see what we can scrape up.

    I think we all went to rewatch this episode just to get it over with. It was like an obligation. Like going to your stupid daughter's college graduation – you know it's gonna suck, but you gotta go just to get it over with. Nah, f*&@k that metaphor. This was like going to an autopsy – you know it's dead, and nothing's gonna change that, but you gotta do an autopsy to find out what killed it. Or WHO killed it...

    Okay, I'm sorry. This shameless RedLetterMedia rip-off was an exaggeration. I just thought it was necessary to start this review by addressing the elephant in the room – the fact that 'All the Way' is no one's favorite episode. It's not a favorite episode of mine either, and I'm a huge fan of both season 6 and Dawn (who is the focal point of the episode). Something clearly went wrong with this one. And yet, like ALL Buffy episodes, there's also a lot to like here, too. So, in this review I'm gonna try to separate the good from the Dawn, and hopefully come out of this with a better understanding of the Buffyverse, or a better understanding of storytelling in general, or at least a better understanding of how much typing can make your hand bleed.
    Ha, describing your review as an autopsy really tickles me and the Scully gif made me smile. I don't read much outside of BtVS online and I didn't recognise the Plinkett quote, had never heard of RedLetterMedia in fact. I have to say I'm glad the glib comment about the son was attributable to a character.

    Running with it, of course the beauty of a review is that it doesn't stay restricted to relaying the autopsy's confirmation of the cause of death. The full investigation to whittle out the whys requires you to get to know the victim and learn about their life in the process of deducing what happened and identifying the killer, if indeed there even has been a !murder!. As you say, there is something to like in all Buffy episodes and so I'm certainly interested to hear if/why you feel Dawn does specifically pull it down.



    NO ONE CARES ABOUT CHARACTERS THAT THEY DON'T CARE ABOUT! (Or: Foreshadowing the potential slayers)
    Ha!

    And now we come back to 'All the Way', and its central sin – the fact that it doesn't focus on our main characters, whose relatability has been slowly growing more and more over the last 5 seasons. Instead, the episode spends much of its run-time on the adventures of Dawn and her new teenage friends, who we only meet for the first (and only) time in this episode, and about whom we DON'T GIVE A SHIT.
    Ah, now this isn't a problem to me. Dawn's story in this episode follows on from the issues we have been seeing build up for her since before Buffy's death. Her importance, her relevancy, whether she is real, whether she matters at all is part of her story from the get go and this episode just continues it. I'm invested in that story growth and development, even if I don't personally relate to it. It feels right to me to see some wider context for her then, to get to see her with her peers and how she relates to them when she has been feeling so pushed aside, and even if it is just as a one-off. Seeing how Dawn gets caught up into desperately seeking peer approval, ignoring dangers and signs she should recognise in Justin just emphasises this issue of feeling adrift, separate to the others and how willing she is to fit in to feel wanted.

    It also highlights how unsettled everything is specifically because of Buffy's return. Not only is everyone not focussing on Dawn any longer, but discord is starting to become apparent. She walks in on Tara and Willow arguing in the kitchen and seems disturbed by it. And then later when Justin finds out her sister is the slayer he upsets her by attributing his interest in Dawn to that, "Your sister's the slayer? I totally get it! I knew there was something about you." It must be really hard to be able to see that Buffy's return, which she will have been so happy about, has caused such disruption too. With Spike no longer playing the same role in the group, Willow and Tara fighting, Xander's and Anya's relationship shifting (even if it seems positive at the moment), and with Buffy distancing herself as well, everything is fluctuating again and Dawn doesn't know where she belongs, if she matters, whether everything is going to be good again.

    And in the later years, two instances in particular reminded me of this same problem: The potential Slayers in season 7 of 'Buffy', and the introduction of teenaged Connor in episode 20 of season 3 of 'Angel'. In both cases, the mistake of focusing on new, unrelatable characters spawned some of the most reviled storylines of the Buffyverse.
    Now with the potentials I can agree with you but not Connor. Connor as a teenager may have been sudden and 'new' but his story wasn't, his connection to the other characters had substance to it before he had even walked back out the portal. The difference for me with the potentials was the entire thing was a whole topic out of the blue and it came with these new characters that didn't have any established connections to the characters that mattered to us, but they were dropped in bluntly by the story. Their presence was jarring, somewhat intentionally perhaps, but it meant that it suffered because there was no natural easing in to develop connections and so no early character developments for them. This episode doesn't make me feel like that about Dawn's friends because their presence helps expand on well-established issues for Dawn and it plays its part within her season I think.

    The second biggest problem with 'All the Way' is the main theme of the episode. What is the theme of the episode, you ask? Well, it's right there in the title – it's about people going "all the way". Specifically, it's about people going "all the way" in BAD things, due to bad reasons like peer pressure and hedonistic urges. I like to call this theme "the seduction theme". Dawn "goes rogue" with her friends, and almost gets killed by vampires. Xander announces his engagement to Anya, and almost immediately regrets it. Willow continues to dabble in magic "to make people happy", and it throws a giant-sized wrench in her relationship with Tara. Buffy lets Dawn go visit her friends against her better judgement, and Dawn abuses that trust.
    SOUND FAMILIAR?
    There is quite a bit in this episode that directly ties to where different characters are towards the end of the season I think. At this early stage we are seeing some key moments, key tipping points within their journeys to get there. Rather than people truly going 'all the way' it seems more about the perception of it, the incorrect perception of it perhaps, as it turns out that these current moments and positions are just a step in a path they don't realise they are only at the start of. As opposed to them being one off incidents/choices that will have little or short-term impact.

    A key issue with Willow's perspective at the moment, again goes to how the consequences she risks are being brushed past. The scene in the bronze raised whether the risks from her choices are even ones she is seeing clearly at all. Perhaps there is just some elation after having successfully returned Buffy which is giving her too much confidence in her own ability. But it does seem that there is an issue in how she is being addressed, that perhaps the concerns being raised may seem like reprimands which treat her like a child. So in a similar way to how Dawn is defiant, perhaps there is a degree to which Willow is unconsciously pushing against being restricted because of how people are expressing themselves. Again, a lack of communication and failed communications could be creating barriers.

    The way Buffy is treating Dawn unintentionally pushes her towards a no man's land. She isn't coddled like a precious key any longer, or as the last connection to Buffy now she has returned, and she can't elicit attention like a cute small kid in a mini witch costume! She isn't a child but she isn't being treated like an adult yet either. It is a relatable stage in adolescence to want to gain some freedom/respect but also wanting to be protected still. It is something we have seen the gang go through too but they aren't managing it with Dawn and around their own issues as well. And let's face it, even with the best of intentions and a lot of considered thought, it isn't necessarily the easiest time to deal with anyway for any guardians/parents. So we see Dawn both looking to assert herself, take risky choices and defy expectations alongside behaviours such as the kleptomania which begs to be seen, challenges them to notice her and even punishes them for not doing do.

    But during all of that, Dawn is striving for connection and understanding. The way she is acting out is foolish and it seems very immature, childish behaviour. But to a degree pigeon-holing it purely as teen issues would miss the ties with the wider group's problems which are exacerbating Dawn's sense of isolation and lack of security. She doesn't really want babying or to break completely away from the group I don't think, she wants to be given a place within it and not be kept on the outskirts. She wants them all to adjust cohesively following Buffy's return.

    None of this is helped by the fact that Buffy and Dawn still haven't clearly forged the boundaries of their new relationship dynamic since losing Joyce. In taking the approach of trying to keep Dawn protected from the world, it simply builds in to Dawn's lack of sense of what her place is within it. We even see Dawn cover her knowledge of the supernatural world when talking to Justin as this desire for connection has her trying to twist/adjust herself to fit in with others. It is this rather than freedom I feel that shows she is really looking for feeling accepted and actively wanted somewhere. For Dawn to be given the assurance she still needs some of (even though she isn't a child) and the development towards adulthood of having a role and a place above being protected, we have to get to the point where Buffy isn't distancing herself. It takes the season for her to choose to be the one staying in the room to talk to Dawn, to say that she can 'see' Dawn and wants to show her the world, to share it with her, because she wants to be a part of it herself again too.

    So I think there is this theme through the episode of destination. What you think is 'all the way' at one point gains perspective and variance when you are at a different point in your journey. There is also the aspect that different people view the same journey differently and maybe even think they are heading to, and aiming for, different destinations.

    Showing the 'you treat me like a man' clip in the previously on for Spike was very interesting against his conversation in the stock room with Buffy, his behaviour in the fight and then afterwards when leaving Revello. Buffy felt that it was easier to speak to him when he wanted to kill her because it didn't add in any complications around his behaviour/feelings, and left him fitting well enough into box marked 'vampire'. If he'd asked her if she felt 'like a bit of the rough and tumble' then, she would probably have been far less likely to have wondered if he was talking about anything other than fighting. Assuming he wasn't being blatantly, overtly lewd to try and throw her of course.

    Spike had himself convinced that Buffy's inclusion of him at the end of last season was an acknowledgment of him in a way that it just may not have been. It mattered to him that she invited him back in and asked for his help, he felt needed and wanted. But we will see Buffy look to hold him away as she also draws closer to him in this season. Using him and taking some comfort from his separation from her life is complicated because of what genuinely also draws her to him. The understanding he has of a darker side to her is real, but along with her depression about her lack of ability to connect with the others it is a side she is worried is wrong and it mixes in with all that she wants to punish herself for. So there is also a fundamental rejection within this that eventually becomes literal when she ends what has become a very mutually abusive dynamic from the combination of her depression and his lack of soul. Spike however tries to see the connection they share as being made stronger in how their relationship develops, tries to see it as further acceptance, when really the physical intimacy is an illusion of such.

    So when Spike tells the other vampire that he is in fact the rebel, we do know this side to his character. We have seen it time and again since he arrived and we can apply it now to him fighting beside the scoobies, to having stayed to look after Dawn and all the ways he doesn't conform to fit comfortably in the box labelled 'vampire: easy to deal with'. But a belief he's truly accepted by Buffy would be a mistake and I don't think is something he fully believes in either. His attempt to draw Buffy into the dark is in part about believing that is where he belongs and hoping she'll join him, lower herself to do so. His wish to believe in there being strength to this new darker connection between them, from the perception of joint experiences and a feeling that she has come back differently, fuels the consideration that perhaps she may accept him now on different terms. Therefore, even after fighting alongside the group, he doesn't look to stay but still separates himself and keeps to the outside where he may be able to draw Buffy away from the others to join him. He returns to his crypt because that is where 'big bads' should be. And just as Justin sees turning Dawn as an acceptable conclusion to them liking each other, Spike's inner monster that sees drawing Buffy into the dark as acceptable will also draw a line between them eventually too, with Buffy even describing the relationship as killing her. So not really accepted on new terms, his failure to not hurt Buffy at the end of the season prompts a perception shift again as he rages against his inability to be monster or man. And so he sets a new expectation and destination for himself.

    Only to immediately regret it. Because, as Giles put it: "Anya is a wonderful former vengeance demon. I'm sure you'll spend... many years of... non-hell-dimensional bliss."
    The responses to Xander's and Anya's engagement is another great example of differing perspectives/destinations. Xander said aloud he wanted to marry her before making the announcement, but it was like he had really been seeing making the engagement official as a current destination. As Giles discusses house purchases and Anya immediately talks about timescales, further future developments cars/house/babies and plans for these, Xander is blasted by the impact of other people's perspectives, the destinations they are openly working towards straight away, and it overwhelms him.

    Anyway, while Xander has a good story going on with the "All the Way" theme, Buffy decides to go "all the way" on her "avoid my responsibilities at all costs" policy – going patrolling with Spike when she's sick of the magic box, and leaving the job of lecturing Dawn to Giles.
    And of course when Buffy initiates the sexual relationship with Spike, opting for Rough and Tumble Option No.2 she takes it still further.

    The main reason that this episode works (Or, at least, doesn't leave us wanting to kill ourselves) is the unresolved nature of its ending. Despite sticking to the "seduction" formula throughout most of the episode, 'All the Way' breaks it in one way – it doesn't end with the characters learning their lesson and moving on. Instead, the episode ends with everything still being WRONG:
    I think this is because the character's perspectives are wrong, because there is much further that they can go. As you say, they fall deeper and they are still falling by the episode end, so it doesn't stop.

    I noticed that characters are asking each other 'where' things are, 'where' people are, 'where' they should be (or would be) throughout the episode. It adds to this sense of unease, that things are up in the air and don't feel settled or grounded at the moment. The uncertainty of where we are heading, but having to make decisions which will impact where you go, is such a major part of growing up. It's back to the destination theme really. When Dawn directly asks Justin what he expects, it is this longer term 'where' that is in play, whether their expectations and perspectives are meeting. But it isn't something that gets answered because most characters aren't communicating effectively at the moment and he wants to distract her with a shorter-term perspective because in this case he doesn't want to provide an answer.

    There is some of what will happen between Buffy and Spike in the Dawn/Justin of this episode, beyond the monster beneath it all aspect I mentioned earlier. Spike will repeatedly try to pin Buffy down on what their relationship is, what she thinks of him and, despite their being some genuine understanding and connection between them, their different perspectives and expectations on their relationship are miles apart.

    The ending of 'All the Way', however, is even more disturbing. Faith had "bad news" written on her forehead ever since she was first introduced, and her fall to evil came as a shock to no one. Buffy, Willow and Xander, however, are our MAIN characters, and we expect them to learn their lesson after such episodes.
    Yes I know what you mean, it does have a real air of foreboding to it. You're right that the endings of the previous episodes had these unresolved problems hanging too, as it all builds up under the surface, great catch. And we are back to the symbolism from Flooded of all the pipes bursting under the pressure underneath the house. Those flood waters are going to undermine the damned foundations if they don't notice them and deal with them soon, ha.

    Instead of blowing up demons with rocket launchers, Buffy now fights her demons in a more down-to-earth, "realistic" way. It's no wonder that this season is so controversial – it is a season that tried to break the very premise of the Buffyverse, and replace it with something new.

    Personally, though, I loved every single moment of it. TV shows always tend toward a status quo, toward a formula, and I always admire the few TV shows who dare to break their formula and bring real change to their stories. Moreover, this change in structure fit the coming-of-age story of Buffy very well...
    It works for me too as believable, progressive development. Really that is what the show has always been about, growing up and facing difficulties from challenges within ourselves as well as from day-to-day living. As much as I don't like that Giles leaves entirely, it does work at this stage for another loss of parental figure/support to go alongside further descent into their personal issues. We will continue to see separation and lack of communication between everyone. How their perspectives differ and sometimes how they don't even know or understand where the other person is really coming from at all. Division is a really big part of what increases their struggles this season and friendships flexing and straining is another realistic part of growing up.

    Quote Originally Posted by Guy View Post
    It's a common trope - when a character gets older, the writers give it a child (or something resembling a child, like a younger sister, or an adopted daughter, or something), to show the main character's growth, and to serve as its familial bond. In other words - Dawn wasn't meant to be a new Buffy for the younger fans, she was meant to be the new Joyce, who supports the story of Buffy. Connor and Dawn are just like X-23 in 'Logan', or Harley in 'Iron Man 3', or Carrie Kelley in 'The Dark Knight Returns', or (most successfully, in my opinion) Ciri from 'The Witcher'. They serve the same function in old characters' stories that parents (like Aunt May, or Joyce, or Mufasa, or Dumbledore, etc...) serve in younger characters' stories. They're not there to draw in other audiences, they're there to service the main characters' story.
    Of the references I understand there, I still haven't actually seen most of them. Perhaps this year I'll try to branch out a little more.

    Of course they may have multiple reasons for introducing new characters. But yes, I agree that the point of introducing Dawn and Connor is for what they bring to the stories of Buffy and Angel. But is that really any different to why the original core groups are formed in the first place? The groups are structured to support and best serve Buffy's/Angel's stories and to include characters that will ping off each other well in doing so. But it does work in reverse too, the connections that Dawn and Connor have to Buffy and Angel also makes their individual stories interesting.

    If you want to know how I would change Dawn and Connor if I could, then just look at the character of Ciri, from the 'Witcher' franchise. She's the most perfect example of this trope that I know. Here's a taste:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1sk8KesUN8
    I've never heard of this series before and the character of Ciri in the clip, without any background knowledge of the characters and their dynamics, was interesting enough but it isn't like she zinged and stood out as exceptional from just that small clip. Of course you'll see more than I do from knowing the series overall.

    I have to say, I just don't have an issue with Dawn getting herself in scrapes any more than the repeated plays for humour some other characters are given. Sometimes it is irritating and other times work better, but I don't think of it as an unchanging constant for her. As with the moments the others can have, it works for someone in the group to be awkward, weak or somewhat foolish sometimes, even often. It enhances the group overall to keep a mix of weakness alongside heroism. And Dawn is more than just a damsel in distress as she has bucketfuls of sass, she doesn't always cower and we do see her use her wits at times too. She was strapped to the tower and bled like a damsel for sure, but she told Glory exactly what she thought of her and she didn't hold back on Ben either. And not just with words, she got him pretty good with that chain too (ow!). She can cry, whine and beg, but be hit by defiance and guts too. Dawn has moments of idiocy, moments of real fear and uncertainty for sure, but she also has moments of strength, quick thinking and bravery. Like you say, there are other characters that aren't proficient fighters and I don't think Dawn works significantly worse than the others.

    Again I don't have a problem with the earlier treatment of Connor because his story was interesting to me. Yes, I agree he changed significantly after he was given his false childhood but seeing the consistencies in his character from that point was also fascinating. Before that change though, we got to see the contrast in Angel between his responses to baby-Connor against the clash that occurred with angry-teen-Connor. That phase with Connor, his relationship with him and behaviour towards him, gave some very interesting insights into Angel as a teen and the relationship he had with his own father. All this of course then fed directly in to how Angel handled the situation and the deal with W&H. I think sometimes having someone reflect another character can draw out really strong reactions that show self-awareness or a lack thereof. And of course where they also then do differ offers other insights too. But as Connor is one of my favourite characters it's not really surprising I don't see this the same.

    Some other general thoughts... I wondered how the character of Kaltenbach figures into the episode. He could be seen as another question on perspectives and it could be that his character plays on misunderstandings and assumptions, or that he works as another monster hidden beneath. The creepy vibe from him as he calls himself 'Daddy' () and when he bemoans having his job, his toys, taken away sits well within the Halloween setting and leaves us uncertain if he is as sinister and twisted as he seems. Of course it is in his house where it is revealed that Justin is in fact a monster underneath. So perhaps Kaltenbach is there purely to contrast and to create a false assumption. But the reveal of Justin's vampirism doesn't in fact determine whether Kaltenbach was a monster of a different sort as well at all.

    The other 'daddy' of the episode has a mixed one. Giles really does step up when he heads out to try and find Dawn and puts his life on the line to fight and protect her and Janice. I can understand his exasperation with Buffy when she passes the buck later on in speaking to Dawn. Even if I do think he shouldn't have totally withdrawn his support when he leaves and that he could have been helping Buffy to solve the finance issue more, I can understand why this grated. But we do see where the frustrations can be running both ways from a lack of communication between them generally and an inability to really consider the other's perspective. Now, whilst I can understand Giles' point of view in seeing the need to not have a heavy involvement in Buffy's home-life, I don't think her needing more support at this early stage is unreasonable (even considering they don't know fully yet how she is feeling). But when Buffy raised going out to patrol earlier with Giles it was ruled out because he wanted her to keep supporting him at the Magic Box and felt it was the priority. That she just left without speaking to him later is a little thoughtless perhaps, but I can understand why she may have not wanted to discuss it again. Is it any more unreasonable than Giles' clear expectation that the group will aid him/Anya in running their shop? I don't think so really. We also had Giles sending Xander off to the charmed objects in irritation which reminded me that he is still not considering the dangerous stock he holds in the magic box adequately (as the Council had flagged and as the next episode goes to prove).

    Buffy had previously gained some satisfaction that Xander and Anya were contrasting her experience when they remained together as Riley left, (their 'beautiful love', as Guy referenced ). But here we see her unhappiness when Anya is gushing about how lucky she is, that the universe allowed her to find someone she was meant to be with and everything work out. Perhaps this is just so difficult now as it both follows her recent meeting with Angel and is happening during a time where she is finding emotional connections difficult generally. But I wonder if there is also any sense of her feeling the unfairness in the contrast, she gave her life for the world and the universe gave her 'this'.

    I don't notice often when the show is out dated, but I don't think tattoos have the same stigma to them any more as the reactions in this episode seemed to convey. Although I appreciate that Dawn would still be pretty young to have one, too young over here to do so legally.

    My least favourite part of this episode is actually a really shallow thing. I hate, (and hate with a truly raw passion!) having to watch the kissing between Dawn and Justin, and there is just sooooo darned much of it. Sure, it works with the whole awkward teenager aspect, but it just looks so clumsy and is so cringe worthy, it's awful. The 'shiver me timbers' line too seems really forced and after looking so awkward the further 'wow' of Dawn's response to the kiss just doesn't work. Ha, I actually realised I'm sat here typing this with my face screwed up in pained disgust as I'm recollecting the scene.

    For favourite moments, I love the dance of capitalist superiority too and I agree with you all that the fight scene is really good. And I know it's a bit corny but I love that Buffy and Dawn bicker regardless of the large pack of vampires around them and mirror each other during the exchange, it just has a real 'siblings' vibe that's great...
    BUFFY: (outraged) Were you parking?! With a vamp?
    DAWN: I-I didn't know he was dead!
    JUSTIN: Living dead.
    DAWN: Shut up!
    BUFFY: How could you not know?
    DAWN: I just met him!
    BUFFY: Oh! Oh, so you were parking in the woods with a boy you just met.
    JUSTIN: We've seen each other at parties.
    BUFFY: Shut up. (to Dawn) I don't believe you!



    Thank you again Guy for joining us and for offering an interesting review. I hope you'll continue to contribute to the rewatch through the season.

    I don't really know if anyone else is particularly rewatching AtS alongside like I have been, but I haven't had the chance to watch Billy again yet. If anything strikes me when I do I'll pop in an extra comment.

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  13. #187
    Sunnydale High Student Guy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stoney View Post
    Hey Guy. A big thank you for joining us and contributing your time/thoughts in a review.
    It was my genuine pleasure

    I don't read much outside of BtVS online and I didn't recognise the Plinkett quote, had never heard of RedLetterMedia in fact.
    Well, time to fix that
    If you have any love for deadpan sarcasm and dark humor, you'll adore this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxKt...4EBB1D68064251

    It also has a lot of really interesting things to say about storytelling in general. And if you hate the Star Wars prequels, these videos are downright cathartic!

    I have to say I'm glad the glib comment about the son was attributable to a character.
    Oh, I hope I didn't worry you there for a second



    Ah, now this isn't a problem to me. Dawn's story in this episode follows on from the issues we have been seeing build up for her since before Buffy's death. Her importance, her relevancy, whether she is real, whether she matters at all is part of her story from the get go and this episode just continues it. I'm invested in that story growth and development, even if I don't personally relate to it. It feels right to me to see some wider context for her then, to get to see her with her peers and how she relates to them when she has been feeling so pushed aside, and even if it is just as a one-off. Seeing how Dawn gets caught up into desperately seeking peer approval, ignoring dangers and signs she should recognise in Justin just emphasises this issue of feeling adrift, separate to the others and how willing she is to fit in to feel wanted.

    It also highlights how unsettled everything is specifically because of Buffy's return. Not only is everyone not focussing on Dawn any longer, but discord is starting to become apparent. She walks in on Tara and Willow arguing in the kitchen and seems disturbed by it. And then later when Justin finds out her sister is the slayer he upsets her by attributing his interest in Dawn to that, "Your sister's the slayer? I totally get it! I knew there was something about you." It must be really hard to be able to see that Buffy's return, which she will have been so happy about, has caused such disruption too. With Spike no longer playing the same role in the group, Willow and Tara fighting, Xander's and Anya's relationship shifting (even if it seems positive at the moment), and with Buffy distancing herself as well, everything is fluctuating again and Dawn doesn't know where she belongs, if she matters, whether everything is going to be good again.
    I agree about all these points! I LOVE Dawn. Always have, probably always will. And I love that we get to see her POV in this episode.

    My problem is the fact that Dawn's friends, who take up a significant part of this episode, are such flat characters. They're flat characters, because we've never seen them before, and will never see them again. That's the problem - instead of TRULY showing us what Dawn's life is like, this episode just throws a bunch of flat stereotypes out of nowhere and says that they're Dawn's friends. It feels flat and cliched, and doesn't work nearly as well as it should have.

    Can you imagine how good this episode COULD have been if Dawn's friends would have been established earlier? We' seen Dawn's friends in 'The Body', and this episode could have brought those friends back, and in that way we would have really CARED about these characters and what happens with them. If the show wants to show us Dawn's POV, then it needs to do it in a deeper way, IMO.

    Again, going back to the Ciri example - all of her supporting characters are either well-known to us from their interactions with Geralt (Geralt is the Buffy to Ciri's Dawn), or they get lengthy amounts of time to establish them as supporting characters for Ciri.

    Now with the potentials I can agree with you but not Connor. Connor as a teenager may have been sudden and 'new' but his story wasn't, his connection to the other characters had substance to it before he had even walked back out the portal.
    First of all, I want to stress this - I was talking about one episode specifically, 3x20. This is the first episode in which we see mature!Connor, and the writers made the big mistake of having Connor on his own in that episode. Instead of introducing us to his character by showing him interacting with the established characters (which is how Dawn was introduced - she spent most of her introductory episode, 'Real Me', interacting with the scoobies), 3x20 chooses to show Connor interacting mostly with a bunch of new characters - some random drug addict, some random drug dealer, etc... This is the WRONG way of introducing any new character, and it's DEFINITELY the wrong way of introducing a child character.

    Second of all - this may be a controversial statement, but I truly believe it: BABIES AREN'T CHARACTERS. Babies don't have complex desires, they don't go through character arcs, they don't build a connection with the audience. No one watches a show and goes "I really relate to that baby character". So, no - Connor was NOT a substantial character before 3x20. He didn't have a connection with the audience, and his relationship with his father was not established to the audience, and he DID need to be established in 3x20. For all intents and purposes, 3x20 was our "first impressions" of Connor, and it was the true beginning of Connor's story, and it needed to be written that way. It needed to make us UNDERSTAND Connor, and RELATE to Connor, and LIKE Connor. And I think that episode failed to do so - partially bacause it spent most of its run-time with Connor being away from the establised characters of the show.


    So I think there is this theme through the episode of destination. What you think is 'all the way' at one point gains perspective and variance when you are at a different point in your journey. There is also the aspect that different people view the same journey differently and maybe even think they are heading to, and aiming for, different destinations.
    Definitely. This episode shows the characters going "all the Way" in what they WANT, but not going forward at all in what they NEED.

    As much as I don't like that Giles leaves entirely, it does work at this stage for another loss of parental figure/support to go alongside further descent into their personal issues.
    Giles' departure was PERFECT for the show. It's exactly what this stage of Buffy's coming-of-age story needed - to lose her support systems, to be shaken, and to learn to survive regardless. If Anthony Stewart Head didn't want to go back to his family in England, Joss would have had to FORCE him to do it anyway, because it was just a necessary step for the story. There's a reason why mentors always get killed.


    Of the references I understand there, I still haven't actually seen most of them. Perhaps this year I'll try to branch out a little more.
    Tsk, tsk...

    Of course they may have multiple reasons for introducing new characters. But yes, I agree that the point of introducing Dawn and Connor is for what they bring to the stories of Buffy and Angel. But is that really any different to why the original core groups are formed in the first place? The groups are structured to support and best serve Buffy's/Angel's stories and to include characters that will ping off each other well in doing so. But it does work in reverse too, the connections that Dawn and Connor have to Buffy and Angel also makes their individual stories interesting.
    This is all true. i just don't believe in the common myth that Connor and Dawn were introduced to attract younger viewers. I don't think that any teenagers started watching 'Angel' because of Connor, and I don't think that the writers believed that Connor would draw younger viewers, when they wrote him as the backstabbing oedipal guy who throws Angel to the bottom of the ocean.

    I've never heard of this series before and the character of Ciri in the clip, without any background knowledge of the characters and their dynamics, was interesting enough but it isn't like she zinged and stood out as exceptional from just that small clip. Of course you'll see more than I do from knowing the series overall.
    Of course, of course. This is simply the first time the character is introduced (in the game), and it isn't exceptional in and of itself. The character becomes exceptional thanks to how well her arc is executed, and thanks to how she relates to the character of Geralt, but I can't really show that due to spoilers. So just play 'The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt'. You'll thank me later.

    I will note, however, that this is an optimal introduction for a child character - we see the child interacting with the MAIN characters of the story, in whom we are already invested. Dawn's introduction in 'Real Me' was equally successful in that regard. Connor's introduction, however, made the mistake of putting Connor with un-established characters, as I've said.

    I have to say, I just don't have an issue with Dawn getting herself in scrapes any more than the repeated plays for humour some other characters are given. Sometimes it is irritating and other times work better, but I don't think of it as an unchanging constant for her. As with the moments the others can have, it works for someone in the group to be awkward, weak or somewhat foolish sometimes, even often. It enhances the group overall to keep a mix of weakness alongside heroism. And Dawn is more than just a damsel in distress as she has bucketfuls of sass, she doesn't always cower and we do see her use her wits at times too. She was strapped to the tower and bled like a damsel for sure, but she told Glory exactly what she thought of her and she didn't hold back on Ben either. And not just with words, she got him pretty good with that chain too (ow!). She can cry, whine and beg, but be hit by defiance and guts too. Dawn has moments of idiocy, moments of real fear and uncertainty for sure, but she also has moments of strength, quick thinking and bravery. Like you say, there are other characters that aren't proficient fighters and I don't think Dawn works significantly worse than the others.
    In seasons 5 & 6, I mostly agree. Dawn gets damseled, but not too much. And as I've said, I love her! But I do think that her character should have had more of an empowering arc - I think that Dawn's overall arc should have been closer to Willow's than Xander's. I think that season 7 should have gone to much greater lengths to show Dawn growing into an empowered character, almost an heir to Buffy. This is what child characters do best - they allow the hero's story to end in a satisfying way, by having him pass the torch to the new generation. Buffy did just that with the empowerment spell in 'Chosen', but I think that the story would have greatly benefited from empowering Dawn more specifically, and having her take her place as a leading figure in the group.

    Again I don't have a problem with the earlier treatment of Connor because his story was interesting to me. Yes, I agree he changed significantly after he was given his false childhood but seeing the consistencies in his character from that point was also fascinating. Before that change though, we got to see the contrast in Angel between his responses to baby-Connor against the clash that occurred with angry-teen-Connor. That phase with Connor, his relationship with him and behaviour towards him, gave some very interesting insights into Angel as a teen and the relationship he had with his own father. All this of course then fed directly in to how Angel handled the situation and the deal with W&H. I think sometimes having someone reflect another character can draw out really strong reactions that show self-awareness or a lack thereof. And of course where they also then do differ offers other insights too. But as Connor is one of my favourite characters it's not really surprising I don't see this the same.
    I think this comes back to my "babies aren't characters" argument. I think it's crucial that Connor should have BEGUN as an idealistic, energetic, warm person, before becoming so sulky and grim. But since Connor's happy days ended when he was still a baby, and since babies aren't characters, the end result is that Connor was introduced as a sulky, grim character, and that's a problem. Ciri also became a grim, cynical character for a long while (in the books, mostly), but she was INTRODUCED as a positive, energetic, warm character, and that's crucial.

    Some other general thoughts... I wondered how the character of Kaltenbach figures into the episode. He could be seen as another question on perspectives and it could be that his character plays on misunderstandings and assumptions, or that he works as another monster hidden beneath. The creepy vibe from him as he calls himself 'Daddy' () and when he bemoans having his job, his toys, taken away sits well within the Halloween setting and leaves us uncertain if he is as sinister and twisted as he seems. Of course it is in his house where it is revealed that Justin is in fact a monster underneath. So perhaps Kaltenbach is there purely to contrast and to create a false assumption. But the reveal of Justin's vampirism doesn't in fact determine whether Kaltenbach was a monster of a different sort as well at all.
    Thematically, I think that creepy-old-guy served to highlight the misunderstanding of our characters - they THINK that their problems are the old conventions (Creepy-old-guy), when in fact their REAL problems are their immature instincts of rebellion (The teenaged vampire).

    Now, whilst I can understand Giles' point of view in seeing the need to not have a heavy involvement in Buffy's home-life, I don't think her needing more support at this early stage is unreasonable (even considering they don't know fully yet how she is feeling).
    Is it really an "early" stage anymore, though? This is the SIXTH episode of the season, after all. I think it's reasonable to assume that in terms of timeline, Buffy has been alive again for a few months. At this point, I would be feeling the same way as Giles - that no matter how traumatic Buffy's experience was, it is time to help her by pushing her, not by cuddling her. Clearly, the cuddling approach had not been helping.


    My least favourite part of this episode is actually a really shallow thing. I hate, (and hate with a truly raw passion!) having to watch the kissing between Dawn and Justin, and there is just sooooo darned much of it. Sure, it works with the whole awkward teenager aspect, but it just looks so clumsy and is so cringe worthy, it's awful. The 'shiver me timbers' line too seems really forced and after looking so awkward the further 'wow' of Dawn's response to the kiss just doesn't work. Ha, I actually realised I'm sat here typing this with my face screwed up in pained disgust as I'm recollecting the scene.
    Heh, I get that. That kiss was awwwwwwwwkward.

    As James Marsters said, kisses on film are a hard thing to do - very technical. And MT and the other actor were pretty young.

    For favourite moments, I love the dance of capitalist superiority too and I agree with you all that the fight scene is really good. And I know it's a bit corny but I love that Buffy and Dawn bicker regardless of the large pack of vampires around them and mirror each other during the exchange, it just has a real 'siblings' vibe that's great...
    BUFFY: (outraged) Were you parking?! With a vamp?
    DAWN: I-I didn't know he was dead!
    JUSTIN: Living dead.
    DAWN: Shut up!
    BUFFY: How could you not know?
    DAWN: I just met him!
    BUFFY: Oh! Oh, so you were parking in the woods with a boy you just met.
    JUSTIN: We've seen each other at parties.
    BUFFY: Shut up. (to Dawn) I don't believe you!

    Gotta love Buffy's sense of priorities
    Last edited by Guy; 26-04-17 at 02:51 PM.
    Come on, I'm not a dog. I'm talking through the dog. He was nearby. I am a power without name, from a realm far above your petty-- Hey! Balls!
    HAHNANUMMANUMMA-SLURP-MMNN... Ho! Wait! Wait! Whoah! I can't help it! I'm housed in this animal. It's complicated!

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  15. #188
    Well Spiked Stoney's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Guy View Post
    If you have any love for deadpan sarcasm and dark humor, you'll adore this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxKt...4EBB1D68064251

    It also has a lot of really interesting things to say about storytelling in general. And if you hate the Star Wars prequels, these videos are downright cathartic!
    I'll check it out and I'll try to watch just a little more than BtVS/AtS generally.

    Oh, I hope I didn't worry you there for a second.
    Maybe a little.

    My problem is the fact that Dawn's friends, who take up a significant part of this episode, are such flat characters. They're flat characters, because we've never seen them before, and will never see them again. That's the problem - instead of TRULY showing us what Dawn's life is like, this episode just throws a bunch of flat stereotypes out of nowhere and says that they're Dawn's friends. It feels flat and cliched, and doesn't work nearly as well as it should have.
    I can see where you are coming from but it just doesn't bother me because it isn't about them at all. I can't see the episode working better for me if I had already met Janice really, she is a generic teen friend and it keeps the focus on considering the emotional drivers for Dawn rather than wasting time on friends that aren't going to be coming back again I think. Arguably perhaps, the fact that she is wanting to fit in with them to get some sense of the connection she needs despite the fact that they aren't particularly good company or interesting characters actually works.

    First of all, I want to stress this - I was talking about one episode specifically, 3x20. This is the first episode in which we see mature!Connor, and the writers made the big mistake of having Connor on his own in that episode. Instead of introducing us to his character by showing him interacting with the established characters (which is how Dawn was introduced - she spent most of her introductory episode, 'Real Me', interacting with the scoobies), 3x20 chooses to show Connor interacting mostly with a bunch of new characters - some random drug addict, some random drug dealer, etc... This is the WRONG way of introducing any new character, and it's DEFINITELY the wrong way of introducing a child character.
    Ah, hmmm, yes A New World is somewhat lacking. I'm not sure I agree still that it is because he was interacting with unknown characters (although the homeless girl I remember as being a duff inclusion) because I think my disappointment centred really on the lack of open emotional response to his return, that Angel was so cautious, but the sudden age shift and attack would have really thrown them. The lack of connection is an important part of his story at that stage, they couldn't have done it another way I don't think and had the steady reveal of how troubled and abused a child he became because of how Holtz raised him. His story would have been pulled down if he had started off as a more settled/happier persona.

    Second of all - this may be a controversial statement, but I truly believe it: BABIES AREN'T CHARACTERS. Babies don't have complex desires, they don't go through character arcs, they don't build a connection with the audience. No one watches a show and goes "I really relate to that baby character". So, no - Connor was NOT a substantial character before 3x20. He didn't have a connection with the audience, and his relationship with his father was not established to the audience, and he DID need to be established in 3x20. For all intents and purposes, 3x20 was our "first impressions" of Connor, and it was the true beginning of Connor's story, and it needed to be written that way. It needed to make us UNDERSTAND Connor, and RELATE to Connor, and LIKE Connor. And I think that episode failed to do so - partially bacause it spent most of its run-time with Connor being away from the establised characters of the show.
    Although I would agree a baby doesn't display character traits etc, the emotional connection to them, the wishes/hopes that the other characters have for who they might become, what their relationships with the child/adult may be like, builds up a meaningful impact that their existence has from the start. That Angel was so besotted with his son matters then in how he responds to him when he returns, how he struggles to connect to him and interact with him and the lack of input he has had to his formative years compared to Holtz. So whilst I agree that a baby isn't a character unless the story has deliberately shown developing character traits as they are ageing etc, Connor had meaning to the existing characters before he returned. I think that had very clearly been established before he was taken, how much he mattered to Angel especially. This then fed into how they reacted to him on his return.

    Sure it was the first impression of Connor as an individual, but his distance and his trouble relating to the others are important parts of his story that you can't have done differently for where they were taking him. We aren't supposed to understand him straight away I don't think, but be intrigued as to what might have happened to him in the time he has been gone to create the character thrown in front of us. It has to be somewhat jarring/confusing. It just works for me although I can understand why some people wouldn't like it. Now I'm all enthusiastic for getting to watch it all again.

    In seasons 5 & 6, I mostly agree. Dawn gets damseled, but not too much. And as I've said, I love her! But I do think that her character should have had more of an empowering arc - I think that Dawn's overall arc should have been closer to Willow's than Xander's. I think that season 7 should have gone to much greater lengths to show Dawn growing into an empowered character, almost an heir to Buffy. This is what child characters do best - they allow the hero's story to end in a satisfying way, by having him pass the torch to the new generation. Buffy did just that with the empowerment spell in 'Chosen', but I think that the story would have greatly benefited from empowering Dawn more specifically, and having her take her place as a leading figure in the group.
    I think there was enough empowerment being thrown around in S7.

    Is it really an "early" stage anymore, though? This is the SIXTH episode of the season, after all. I think it's reasonable to assume that in terms of timeline, Buffy has been alive again for a few months. At this point, I would be feeling the same way as Giles - that no matter how traumatic Buffy's experience was, it is time to help her by pushing her, not by cuddling her. Clearly, the cuddling approach had not been helping.
    Hell yes it is still an early stage! She dug her way out of her own coffin, clawed her way through the earth fighting for breath. I think that hits an 'impossible to imagine' level of horrifically traumatic experience. I see the fact that she is working past this within the same season as pretty impressive to be honest. But I can understand why Giles would feel his heavy involvement isn't necessarily right, that Buffy will need to start taking control and so he shouldn't just shoulder the burden of anything she wants to avoid. But there are ways of going about it and a lot of this comes back to failed communication again.

    As James Marsters said, kisses on film are a hard thing to do - very technical. And MT and the other actor were pretty young.
    True, true. But why did they have to show us so damned much of it!?




    - - - Updated - - -

    Stoney: Some other general thoughts... I wondered how the character of Kaltenbach figures into the episode. He could be seen as another question on perspectives and it could be that his character plays on misunderstandings and assumptions, or that he works as another monster hidden beneath. The creepy vibe from him as he calls himself 'Daddy' () and when he bemoans having his job, his toys, taken away sits well within the Halloween setting and leaves us uncertain if he is as sinister and twisted as he seems. Of course it is in his house where it is revealed that Justin is in fact a monster underneath. So perhaps Kaltenbach is there purely to contrast and to create a false assumption. But the reveal of Justin's vampirism doesn't in fact determine whether Kaltenbach was a monster of a different sort as well at all.
    Guy: Thematically, I think that creepy-old-guy served to highlight the misunderstanding of our characters - they THINK that their problems are the old conventions (Creepy-old-guy), when in fact their REAL problems are their immature instincts of rebellion (The teenaged vampire).
    I was thinking about this as I had my breakfast this morning, as you do.

    I think you are right that there is a definite tie in the use of Kaltenbach to the old against the new. I can see it works with the threat not coming from the sinister creepy motw he represents but the situation a character has walked themselves into, represented by Justin instead. But as I said, it is interesting because although it plays the surprise aspect that Kaltenbach wasn't the real current threat, it doesn't definitely conclude that Kaltenbach was harmless. The reveal he had indeed made some treats doesn't rule out any sinister intentions. It's a pretty dark representation of progression to work alongside the theme of growing up, to have a guy who was possibly preying on children taken out by a child turned killer, but it's there to consider (as well of course that it was just a false assumption about him).

    Perhaps Kaltenbach can also be seen to reflect how responses to The Trio are somewhat inadequate at first too. As a human any threat he presented was pretty disregarded by the teen group who too readily walked into his house. Similarly the Trio are too readily brushed off as foolish nerds and then actually cause some very serious problems and commit some horrific crimes. So there is this constantly repeated aspect of threats that are dismissed and/or hidden, Kaltenbach/Justin/The Trio, which reflects issues churning under the surface for all the members of the group and later also the threats that both Willow and Spike present which were unexpected.

    And if I'm remembering correctly this notion of threats that are 'hidden within' will also work alongside Billy where Wes and Gunn try to attack Fred driven by misogynistic hate. Even though it was caused by Billy's demonic effect and they would never have behaved like that in their right minds, it has Wes fearing what it says about him, what he has hidden deep within himself. Right, I'm going to go and watch that straight away.
    Last edited by Stoney; 27-04-17 at 08:11 PM.

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  17. #189
    Sunnydale High Student Guy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stoney View Post
    I can see where you are coming from but it just doesn't bother me because it isn't about them at all. I can't see the episode working better for me if I had already met Janice really, she is a generic teen friend and it keeps the focus on considering the emotional drivers for Dawn rather than wasting time on friends that aren't going to be coming back again I think. Arguably perhaps, the fact that she is wanting to fit in with them to get some sense of the connection she needs despite the fact that they aren't particularly good company or interesting characters actually works.
    Of course it's not "about them", but they're still part of it. They're characters in the story. And as such, they should be deeper. Maybe the story works for you regardless, but don't you think that it'll work EVEN BETTER if they were deeper characters?

    Ah, hmmm, yes A New World is somewhat lacking. I'm not sure I agree still that it is because he was interacting with unknown characters (although the homeless girl I remember as being a duff inclusion) because I think my disappointment centred really on the lack of open emotional response to his return, that Angel was so cautious, but the sudden age shift and attack would have really thrown them. The lack of connection is an important part of his story at that stage, they couldn't have done it another way I don't think and had the steady reveal of how troubled and abused a child he became because of how Holtz raised him. His story would have been pulled down if he had started off as a more settled/happier persona.
    Well, they obviously couldn't just go from "Connor was trapped in a hell dimension with Hotz" to "Connor is happy and loves Angel". Which is why I think that Connor's story should have been fundamentally different, from a much earlier point. It would do his character good.

    Although I would agree a baby doesn't display character traits etc, the emotional connection to them, the wishes/hopes that the other characters have for who they might become, what their relationships with the child/adult may be like, builds up a meaningful impact that their existence has from the start. That Angel was so besotted with his son matters then in how he responds to him when he returns, how he struggles to connect to him and interact with him and the lack of input he has had to his formative years compared to Holtz. So whilst I agree that a baby isn't a character unless the story has deliberately shown developing character traits as they are ageing etc, Connor had meaning to the existing characters before he returned. I think that had very clearly been established before he was taken, how much he mattered to Angel especially. This then fed into how they reacted to him on his return.

    Sure it was the first impression of Connor as an individual, but his distance and his trouble relating to the others are important parts of his story that you can't have done differently for where they were taking him. We aren't supposed to understand him straight away I don't think, but be intrigued as to what might have happened to him in the time he has been gone to create the character thrown in front of us. It has to be somewhat jarring/confusing. It just works for me although I can understand why some people wouldn't like it. Now I'm all enthusiastic for getting to watch it all again.
    Okay, how about this - instead of having Connor kidnapped as a baby, he would be kidnapped as a 10-year-old. 10-year-olds ARE characters.

    I think there was enough empowerment being thrown around in S7.
    Empowerment is lik chocolate - you can never have enough of it.

    Hell yes it is still an early stage! She dug her way out of her own coffin, clawed her way through the earth fighting for breath. I think that hits an 'impossible to imagine' level of horrifically traumatic experience. I see the fact that she is working past this within the same season as pretty impressive to be honest. But I can understand why Giles would feel his heavy involvement isn't necessarily right, that Buffy will need to start taking control and so he shouldn't just shoulder the burden of anything she wants to avoid. But there are ways of going about it and a lot of this comes back to failed communication again.
    It's an early stage of dealing with trauma in general, sure, but I'm not sure if it's too early to start moving from a cuddling policy to a pushing policy.


    I was thinking about this as I had my breakfast this morning, as you do.
    Naturally.

    I think you are right that there is a definite tie in the use of Kaltenbach to the old against the new. I can see it works with the threat not coming from the sinister creepy motw he represents but the situation a character has walked themselves into, represented by Justin instead. But as I said, it is interesting because although it plays the surprise aspect that Kaltenbach wasn't the real current threat, it doesn't definitely conclude that Kaltenbach was harmless. The reveal he had indeed made some treats doesn't rule out any sinister intentions. It's a pretty dark representation of progression to work alongside the theme of growing up, to have a guy who was possibly preying on children taken out by a child turned killer, but it's there to consider (as well of course that it was just a false assumption about him).
    Well, anything's possible, but I'm pretty sure that we're supposed to infer that he's just a harmless old man. His toys ARE just toys, his cake IS just cake, etc...
    Come on, I'm not a dog. I'm talking through the dog. He was nearby. I am a power without name, from a realm far above your petty-- Hey! Balls!
    HAHNANUMMANUMMA-SLURP-MMNN... Ho! Wait! Wait! Whoah! I can't help it! I'm housed in this animal. It's complicated!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Guy View Post
    Of course it's not "about them", but they're still part of it. They're characters in the story. And as such, they should be deeper. Maybe the story works for you regardless, but don't you think that it'll work EVEN BETTER if they were deeper characters?
    Not particularly to be honest. Some teen friendships are pretty shallow and, as I say, I think her willingness to seek acceptance even in a puddle of depth gives a good idea of how isolated she is feeling in a way it wouldn't have so much if they had been more interesting/established friendships. It may just be me though.

    Well, they obviously couldn't just go from "Connor was trapped in a hell dimension with Hotz" to "Connor is happy and loves Angel". Which is why I think that Connor's story should have been fundamentally different, from a much earlier point. It would do his character good.

    Okay, how about this - instead of having Connor kidnapped as a baby, he would be kidnapped as a 10-year-old. 10-year-olds ARE characters.
    I don't think I would have bought into Connor's complete brainwashing and his extreme choices as well if he had had some years of stable/happy 'real' interaction with the gang. That he was torn away before his nurtured personality is formed by other people than Holtz makes his extreme behaviour more believable and is also part of what makes seeing how he is like Angel really interesting. That he was taken as a baby was really tragic too for all that was lost and which the group never got to share/input with him too. Also then seeing Angel's responses to such a troubled teen reflect his own upbringing is just excellent. I just love this story arc, I really, really do. But I know plenty of people did/do dislike Connor and perhaps for the same reasons you don't like his story.

    Empowerment is lik chocolate - you can never have enough of it.
    Nah, it gets all cloying and stops tasting so yummy when you have too much.

    It's an early stage of dealing with trauma in general, sure, but I'm not sure if it's too early to start moving from a cuddling policy to a pushing policy.
    Well, as I said, I can understand Giles thinking that she needs to not be passing everything over, I just don't think it is handled brilliantly.

    Well, anything's possible, but I'm pretty sure that we're supposed to infer that he's just a harmless old man. His toys ARE just toys, his cake IS just cake, etc...
    You may well be right as they do 'reveal' the cakes as the monster in Justin is revealed to be the real danger, for sure. But it doesn't really matter even if Kaltenbach was only a harmless, but creepy old man. The potential darker reflections can be considered and the possibility he was in fact sinister too was there as another question over assumptions, perceptions as much as if it turned out he wasn't. And of course the whole thing is still playing along with this notion of 'what is hidden' and also the danger that humans can hold within too.

    Billy was as I remembered it plot-wise and I really enjoyed rewatching it. Billy himself we already knew to be 'bad' from when Angel was sent to retrieve him in the previous episode. But it is revealed in this one that he isn't the ordinary human that he appears to be. So again, another 'hidden' threat.

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    I don't have a lot to say about All the Way other than that I find it pretty underwhelming and criminally uninspired as far as Halloween episodes go. I consider Halloween to be not only a classic BtVS episode but one of the classic Halloween-themed episodes of any show and Fear Itself is extremely good too (it may even be technically 'better' but doesn't quite capture the same fun and charm that Halloween does). But All the Way is just a wasted opportunity and they may as well have not bothered doing a holiday-themed episode at all.

    Whilst I'm on the subject, I do think the writers backed themselves into a corner when they established that vampires and demons shy away from Halloween because they find it crass. It was a quirky and unexpected piece of world-building but as a consequence it really limited what the writers were able to do in the future. How many times can you have an episode based around Halloween when it's meant to be the one time demons take the night off? There's only so many episodes you can do about humans messing up or causing havoc before it strains credibility and I assume this is why we only ever got 3 episodes. And I find that a shame because BtVS is really the perfect kind of show to do Halloween episodes each year and it could have really cemented itself as a series known for its Halloween-centric eps the same way Friends had a reputation for its Thanksgiving episodes.

    But, yeah, this episode is just uninspired. It lacks the fun and creativity of S2's episode and the spooky atmosphere of S4. They could have pretty much done the episode exactly the same without it ever being Halloween and it would have had very little consequence to the overall plot.

    It's funny that Guy mentioned how great he thought the fight scene was because whenever I think of this episode I always think about how awful I think it is I think the stunts on BtVS really peaked in BtVS S4 and never quite matched them again once they were forced to hire a new stuntwoman/team for BtVS S5. I'm generally not a fan of how Buffy's fighting style changes completely in the fifth season (rather than being hard and fast she starts doing all these unnecessary flips and gymnastics and the fights tend to look far slower and more choreographed) but they were at least, for the most part, inspired. You could tell they were trying. Wheres, I find S6 to be absolutely the worst season of the show in regards to the stunt work (besides the obvious poor fight scenes in S1) and it was like they barley put any effort into the choreography whatsoever. This fight scene is a classic example of how poor I found it to be with the absolute lame sequence between Buffy and the vampire, where it's hard to imagine that this is the same show that delivered us such breathtakingly fast and brutal fight sequences like Buffy VS Faith in Graduation Day. I have no problems with Buffy having difficulty with a single vampire, it's refreshing and I like that actually, but it just looked awful. It has some really horrible and lame slow punches and kicks and some pitiful editing like when the car window is clearly shattered before the vampire kicks it. It's frankly embarrassing to watch.

    The only other thing that really stands out to me in this episode is how awful Dawn actually behaves. I've come to really love Dawn but I disliked her for a long time and this episode was a big reason why. When Justin kills the old man in his house he bursts out of the kitchen claiming to have stolen the man's wallet and Dawn giggles with glee and runs out of the house with him. Now, she may not know that he actually killed the old man, but she heard what sounded like a struggle in the kitchen and at the very least she believes there was some kind of tussle and that Justin probably knocked the poor old man over when he swiped his wallet. What kind of ******* is Dawn that thinks it's fun to not only steal from a poor old man but to probably rough him up a bit as well? It's actually really horrible and it always disturbs me when I watch this episode. I mean, I consider this little act of rebellion to be even worse than Buffy acting out in Bad Girls as I think attacking a defenseless old man in his home is worse than causing the cop car to crash and at least Buffy showed concern and remorse for hurting the cops whereas Dawn got off on stealing from the elderly.
    "You've got ... a world of strength in your heart. I know you do. You just have to find it again. Believe in yourself."

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    This episode should be, like, two episodes because it has two completely disjointed parts that don't really mesh in any way. You have the character stuff centered around the wedding which is for the most part OK and you have Dawn's adventure which is basically meh squared. I mean, generally I love it when BtVS flips horror tropes ( seemingly creepy old man is a victim/teenage kids are monsters etc ) but the way it's done in this episode is lazy and totally half-assed. BtVS used to know how to approach horror, just check out that scene in "Some Assembly Required" where Buffy visits Daryl's mother - so what happened? Anyway, I like the part with Willow and the little witch 'cause it's moe in 3D! And Anya, Xander and Willow dancing!


    Xander with an eye patch is a cool little bit of foreshadowing. Also, that I'm gonna marry that girl scene will get really awesome when Xander and Dawn decide to get married in the comics. Speaking of comics - there is nothing wrong with conjuring balloons to make your friends happy. Intention is pure, you're full of shit Tara. What else? Giles! Does this guy really get upset because some vamp called him a grandpa?! Jesus, Rupert are you twelve? Seriously, why is Giles such a child? Spike! Spike has another godawful line. We're rebels! No. I'm a rebel, you're an idiot! Literally no, you! - who writes this crap? Speaking of dialog, I did like all the sexual innuendo and that It always is when it's you line - Dawnie dropping the tsar bomba of truth bombs. Oh and Buffy...no, I don't have anything to say about Buffy in this episode, she's just boring.

    Ultimately, this episode has no reason to exist. It's a waste of time.

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    I do agree we can see the reveal when Justin was shown to be a monster as a flip of expectations, as I said. But personally I think it narrows it unnecessarily to not also consider that perhaps Kaltenbach may have also been exactly what he seemed too and just not the biggest/only threat. The danger coming from ourselves, hidden from us and what others expect of us, and alongside the other threat in the season being from humans that the group dismiss too readily I really do think also works against the use of his character in this episode, beyond just a basic reversing of expectations.

    Quote Originally Posted by vampmogs View Post
    The only other thing that really stands out to me in this episode is how awful Dawn actually behaves. I've come to really love Dawn but I disliked her for a long time and this episode was a big reason why. When Justin kills the old man in his house he bursts out of the kitchen claiming to have stolen the man's wallet and Dawn giggles with glee and runs out of the house with him. Now, she may not know that he actually killed the old man, but she heard what sounded like a struggle in the kitchen and at the very least she believes there was some kind of tussle and that Justin probably knocked the poor old man over when he swiped his wallet. What kind of ******* is Dawn that thinks it's fun to not only steal from a poor old man but to probably rough him up a bit as well? It's actually really horrible and it always disturbs me when I watch this episode. I mean, I consider this little act of rebellion to be even worse than Buffy acting out in Bad Girls as I think attacking a defenseless old man in his home is worse than causing the cop car to crash and at least Buffy showed concern and remorse for hurting the cops whereas Dawn got off on stealing from the elderly.
    I think this fits the episode if we are looking at it in terms of how desperate Dawn is to fit in and be accepted rather than truly about rebellion. It links in that way too against Spike's comment about being the rebel. It isn't the full picture of the 'why' behind what he does, but a front covering his emotional responses, feelings and insecurities. It can be particularly difficult when you are young and feel a desperation to be wanted and kept within a peer group. The strength of personality to stand up for things you know are wrong can allude people at times when they are younger and less confident or troubled. Even to the degree of acting out of character and choosing to participate or seeming to go along with something they really oppose. And especially if you can add in multiple layers to why someone may be acting out, complications to processing their feelings and responses. Personally speaking, I witnessed some things as a teenager, some behaviour from others in the group I was around, that genuinely horrified me. Things that still actually upset me now to think of 25 years later. But at the time I didn't say anything, for what I can only consider now to have been fear of rejection from the group. That drive to 'fit'. As an adult, hell even just a little bit older in my youth, there is no way I wouldn't have said something, let alone been in the vague vicinity of those people again. And no doubt those actual experiences weigh in to how incredibly strongly I feel about such things. Some of Dawn's behaviour is pretty self-destructive in her desperation to feel a 'place' and to feel 'seen' in this season. It exposes how she is struggling within, but doesn't mean something significant about her personality overall I don't think. Really it is somewhat reflective of how Buffy hurts herself in this season.
    Last edited by Stoney; 02-05-17 at 03:15 AM.

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    Hey, Guys (and Guy)!

    Sorry it’s been so long, but real life has really tied me down lately. I’ve been rushing to complete Once More With Feeling for the past month and some stuff came up that caused a lot of delays in work – but it’s almost all resolved now! My apologies, Guy, for not responding to your review until now!

    I was planning to post this response to Life Serial and All The Way last night and then the first part of Once More With Feeling tonight – but for various reasons, nothing worked out yesterday. So I’m posting this tonight and starting to post OMWF tomorrow - sorry for the slight delay!

    Tiny Tabby, I also wanted to say hello to the board and I thought your post was terrific - look forward to hearing more from you. Great analysis of Life Serial and all the ways in which Buffy has to maneuver in a man’s world!

    With regards to Life Serial, I’ve always thought that the most important character development happened off-screen – Buffy’s meeting with Angel. The move to a new network necessitated keeping any Angel appearances from the audience - but it’s very odd that we never hear anything as to what happened. Dawn asks about Angel but Buffy only says that it was intense and past and she’ll just keep it to herself.

    When Buffy brings that fried chicken home, I also note that it’s Tara who tries to fill in the silence as Buffy sits down, depressed that they’ve all eaten without her. It’s almost as if Buffy isn’t really needed anymore – Life Serial to me is all about Life Without Buffy - even with Spike, she doesn’t seem center to their existence anymore. What we actually see is what life would be like without her – Willow and Tara raising Dawn, Anya running the Magic Box, Xander managing construction, Spike playing poker and drinking with his demon buddies – and Giles shouldn’t even be there at all. What’s so dispiriting for Buffy is her realization that life has simply gone by without her after her death – it’s a little like It’s a Wonderful Life if George Bailey had never meant anything to anyone and everyone seemed to forget very fast how central he had been to their lives.

    And I don’t think that this is true – of course, they’re all overjoyed that Buffy is back - Willow in particular is relieved that she doesn’t have to deal with the patrolling anymore. But they don’t know how to include Buffy back in their lives that have seemingly moved on without her – instead of accommodating themselves to her, they try to fit her into their reordered lives with bad results. In fact, the only ones who really want to rearrange their lives to fit Buffy in are the nerds because of what she represents more than who she is.

    It annoys me that Giles is so presumptuous about her life choices so soon after she’s returned – it really feels to me like he’s making the same mistake that he made in Flooded with Willow. He’s not listening to Buffy and Willow as young women, but assuming that they’re too young and untested to make decisions for themselves without his guidance:

    GILES: Buffy, there was some discussiong in your absence about what you’re going to do now.
    BUFFY: Oh, yeah. I’ve been giving that a lot of thought and I’m pretty sure I figured out what it is I should be doing.
    GILES: Good. That’s good.
    BUFFY: Yeah. Got it all wired. I’ll hold off paying the plumber right away, use the money to pay the utility bills, that way I can wait to reshingle the roof until I get the refund back –
    GILES: I mean with your life.
    BUFFY: Oh. Life plans. I, uh, have no idea. I mean, I guess – well, I left school, you know, when Mom got sick but I always figured I’d go back later. But then she – so I was think of reenrolling – but I missed the registrations cut-off, busy being dead and all –


    And somehow, this conversation means that Buffy is unable to cope with life, that she’s come back wrong, that she’s aimless and driftless and all that. But I actually side with Buffy here – deal with the finances and the immediate problems first before deciding what to do with her life. Giles’ attitude doesn’t make much sense to me – why in the f**k does he think that Buffy should be daydreaming about the meaning of life when she’s got to pay bills and deal with four months gone and a resurrection and her patrolling and two friends living in her house and a sister who needs attention and a lovesick vampire and another friend getting married. What does Giles want from her, anyway? Isn’t that enough?

    Agree with both vampmogs and StateofSiege that it’s very hard to blame Buffy at all for her actions in Life Serial – after the way she’s treated at the construction site and at the Magic Box, why not shake it all off to go drinking with Spike? Yet, it feels as if we’re supposed to think that Buffy has lost her way – even though a male character would have done the same thing and no one would think anything of it – think – what would Angel have done? He’d have walked off the construction site, slammed the door to the Magic Box and drank Lorne under the table – and everyone would have thought of it as charming and funny. But when Buffy does it, we’re all supposed to think – what? That she’s acting immature? Really?

    It’s not as if Buffy is running around starting bar fights or something – she herself even scoffs at the idea – she’s more disappointed with life than anything else at the moment. But for some reason, a character like Angel can be this surly and it’s acceptable – but if Buffy does it, she’s COME BACK WRONG!!! Because girls are full of sugar and spice and everything nice and can never suffer from depression or be tired of life.

    And I think this is why one of the fundamental premises of the Season is on shaky ground if you look at it from a non-Buffy point of view – as with Willow, there’s a lot of assumptions about what they’ve done and what they should be doing that aren’t really warranted considering the bizarre events that have just happened. I don’t understand why so many fans are angry at Buffy for being so confused and depressed after being brought back from the dead after a horrendous situation that seemingly had no solution except to sacrifice herself for the world – just as I don’t understand why Willow sets so many people off this season because she wanted to bring Buffy back from an imagined Hell caused by her unusual death.

    I agree with Tiny Tabby that some of it is Buffy (and Willow) struggling to be something other than they are – as female heroes, they should always be strong, brave, cheerful and beautiful – as Jonathan says:

    JONATHAN: Slayer always knows what she’s doing! Sharp, decisive, always with a plan! We are never gonna be the Lords of Sunnydale with her always one step ahead of us!

    And Warren, ever misogynistic, believes that Buffy – like all women – has this innate power to bewitch and belittle men who are just apparently going about their own business when WHAM! – women just make them feel so small:

    WARREN: That’s why we’re gonna throw these tests at her. See which one of us can shake her up the most. Maybe find a weakness or two.

    Warren’s last lines in the scene are chilling considering what will happen to Katrina:

    WARREN: And the Slayer’ll never even know what hit her.



    And I really loved Clavus’ brilliant point that the classroom discussion is at the center of the episode – imagined realities by imagined communities – all the men at the construction site agree to “see” the same thing – all the poker players pretend that Buffy is “ugly” because they’re annoyed at Spike – the trio see Buffy as some kind of Super Slayer who always knows what she’s doing even though it is clearly not the case – and then there’s the Scoobies themselves who see Buffy very differently from how the viewer sees her because they are not privy to the information that Buffy was not pulled from Hell, but a much more peaceful place.

    I actually love the line in which Willow says to Buffy, “The trick is to just get into the rhythm, go with the flow.” – which seems to be the way in which Willow is coping with her own emotional problems – and point to the ways in which Rack will try to manipulate her.

    I don’t find Xander’s behavior as problematic as other viewers do – I think he explains quite well that it was a problem to get Buffy into a union gig in the first place and many strings had to be pulled. I did want to make a special call-out as a musical theater buff to Xander’s sly reference to “Ol’ Man River” in his line:

    BUFFY: Diving right into the work force. Being the breadwinner. Building things with my hands.
    XANDER: Uh, actually, you won’t be building so much as lifting and toting.
    BUFFY: Toting?


    Which is a deft reference by Xander to these protest lyrics by Joe, the black stevedore in Show Boat, who chafes against the racist society that forces him to work at substandard wages – an echo of earlier African-American songs that speak of little hope in surviving slavery outside of death:

    Here we all work 'long the Mississippi
    Here we all work while the white folk play
    Pullin' them boats from the dawn till sunset
    Gettin' no rest till the judgment day

    Don't look up and don't look down
    You don't das make the boss man frown
    Bend your knees and bow your head
    And pull that rope until you’re dead

    Let me go 'way from the Mississippi
    Let me go 'way from the white man boss
    Show me that stream called the River Jordan
    That's the old stream that I long to cross.

    Ol’ Man River
    That Ol' Man River
    He don't say nothin', but he must know somethin'
    He just keeps rollin', he keeps on rollin' along

    He don't plant tatters
    He don't plant cotton
    And them what plants ‘em, are soon forgotten
    But Ol' Man River, he just keeps rollin' along

    You and me,
    We sweat and strain
    Body all achin' and racked with pain
    Tote that barge
    Lift that bale
    You get a little drunk and you land in jail

    I get weary,
    And sick of trying
    I'm tired of livin', but I'm scared of dyin'
    But Ol' Man River, he just keeps rollin’ along.


    Not only does it prefigure Xander summoning the Demon Sweet because he's thinking about musicals, but this song is also an interesting quote considering the way in which the episode plays with the idea of time – Old Man River obviously represents the omnipresent march of Time. And as Stoney says, not “just as a reference to fitting in, schedules and pressures, but perhaps because to succeed we are tied to our ability to keep moving forwards in our life journeys, (mostly!) in step with the world around us.”

    I think this is directly linked to Buffy’s feelings regarding time – how she perceives death as the only natural ending to the displacement that she feels. I think of Jonathan’s Latin spell with his Magic Bone (could there be a biggest metaphor for their male insecurities?) before her ordeal at the Magic Box – as translated, it reads, “The task is a circle with her at the core. The time bends to the goal.”

    And it’s not surprising considering all that’s happened to her this episode – the behavior of the guys at the construction site certainly makes it harder – some of the difficulty comes in Buffy not sharing with others the pressure she is under because she wants to compete on a man’s level without complaining. There’s a cut moment in the episode where one of the guys wants to show her blueprints and it ends up being a nude centerfold – Buffy actually plays it cool and says, “Well, I’m no structural engineer, but looks a little top heavy.” Instead of punching the guy out. Which is understandable considering it’s also Xander’s reputation at stake – but it’s disappointing and I’m glad it was cut because the viewer would have been itching for Buffy to kick their butts. In fact, Xander shows up and is instantly convinced that a Buffy ass-kicking is exactly what’s happened until Buffy explains.

    And this kind of sexual innuendo continues throughout the episode – at the Magic Box, a male customer basically asks Buffy which candle would work to create a more romantic atmosphere – for seduction, one assumes, since the candle is literally called, “Lemon Seduction!” And the other – “Essence of Slug” – surely the limp, soft antithesis of Jonathan’s giant “Magic Bone.” The Mummy Hand is a reference to the famous 1940 film about the inadvertent resurrection of a homicidal mummy by archeologists who can’t leave well enough alone – bringing to mind the obvious.

    Of course, the question remains as to why Anya and Giles feel it necessary to take the money for delivery out of Buffy’s pay – which begs the question as to why Buffy shouldn’t just take a salary for saving the world seventy-billion times without going through this crap. Obviously, Giles has a change of heart and writes a check for Buffy – out of the money he’s made through getting his job back with the Watcher’s Council thanks to Buffy. There’s a huge gap in this episode that’s been widening since Flooded as to why Buffy should be beset with money problems at all considering that Anya wouldn’t own the Magic Box because Giles’ wouldn’t have had it to sell to her unless Buffy had gotten his salary back which would have been moot anyway if The Master/Angelus/The Mayor/Adam/Glory had not fallen thanks to Buffy so shouldn’t we be throwing her a parade and siphoning money to pay her bills from the Watcher’s Council Bank Account since Willow is such a computer whiz/witch? Urg!

    Anyhoo, putting that aside (and Spike’s knowledge of a treasure trove sans the Ring of Amara which must have been worth the entire debt owed by the US that year) Buffy turns to Spike as an outlet which might give her afterlife meaning. Spike seems overjoyed, almost giddy, that Buffy has turned to him to gabble about the bitch of living – a dim memory for Spike, but a strong one nonetheless as Mister Bloody Awful Poet. Buffy’s speech immediately plays into Spike’s speech in Fool for Love:

    BUFFY: So you traded up on the food chain. Then what?
    SPIKE: Nah, please, don't make it sound like something you'd flip past on the Discovery Channel. Becoming a vampire is a profound and powerful experience. I could feel this new strength coursing through me. Getting killed made me feel really alive for the very first time. I was through living by society's rules. Decided to make a few of my own.

    Of course, we learn that Spike was living by Angelus’ rules and fibbing a bit to Buffy, but in Spike’s mind, it’s the thought that counts. He’s hopeful that Buffy is having the same feelings of being “really alive for the very first time” now that she’s been dead and clawed her way up from the ground:

    SPIKE: I’d hit the demon world. Ask questions, throw punches, find out what’s in the air. Fun, too.
    BUFFY: ‘S not my kind of fun.
    SPIKE: Yeah. It is. And your life’s gonna get a lot less confusing when you figure that out…You’re not a shopgirl. You’re a creature of the darkness like me. Try on my world, see how good it feels.


    And the kitten poker is a set-up, of course, for the idea that Spike has become some kind of gambling freak in Buffy’s absence – not to mention going back to his money-grubbing ways from Season Four. And one has to ask – why the regression? Why does Spike return to pre-in-love-with-Buffy Spike here? And we get a glimpse of what a chipped Spike would be like without Buffy to guide him – apparently a kitten-gambling, weaponized egg-of-mass-destruction dealing vampire. There’s a kind of sense here – Spike tried so hard in Season Five to live up to Buffy’s standards and be “good” as much as he could – especially after he replaced sexual fantasies with a bot with something much more meaningful – and after all that effort, Buffy died anyway.

    So Spike naturally returned to his old ways with a nod towards remaining a good guy only in keeping his promise to Buffy to protect Dawn and working with the Scoobies. But he kept the two worlds carefully apart until Buffy’s return – and is now trying to pull her from one to the other. And it’s interesting to look at the difference between how Buffy sees that world and how Spike sees that world. Even after all that has happened, Buffy is still expecting the pre-chipped anarchistic Spike who would knock heads for information – her view of him still fixed upon the Season Two Spike with a Drusilla-like worship of Buffy thrown in – and she’s disappointed that he’s a poker-playing, cheating-for-kittens vampire.

    BUFFY: You’re gonna play cards?
    SPIKE: I need a moment with my Lady.


    Spike’s mention of Buffy as “his Lady” is indicative that he’s living out a fantasy that Buffy is his girl – as he says later. From Spike’s point of view, he’s pulled Buffy into his world to live out a fantasy that she would enjoy doing what he does – only to find that she sees him as a loser – mocking his poker playing for kittens and putting him down constantly:

    BUFFY: You wanna play, that’s fine. I’m sticking to the original plan. Who do I kill for information?
    *****
    BUFFY: You play for kittens?
    *****
    SPIKE: C’mon, someone’s gotta stake me.
    BUFFY: I’ll do it. What? You thought I was just gonna let that lie there?
    *****
    DEMON: You’re lucky today, Spike.
    SPIKE: Got my good luck charm with me.
    BUFFY: (drinks) Bleeegh!

    Once Spike is accused of cheating, he seems almost embarrassed by this all happening in front of Buffy – he blusters and boasts of how the Slayer will back him up in a fight – but he doesn’t count on Buffy’s refusal.

    SPIKE: Ahh! It’s a set-up, in’t it? Squeeze a few quid outta the vamp? Tell you what you didn’t count on, though. Me and the bird. You want a fight, you face the two of us.
    BUFFY: What? I’m not getting into a bar fight? I’ll beat ‘em up for information, great! But not to defend your right to gamble for kittens! Which, by the way, is a stupid currency!
    SPIKE: C’mon, Slayer! A big fight’s just what you need!


    And then Buffy throws Spike’s words from Fool for Love right back at him.

    BUFFY: Forget it. ‘M not playing by anyone else’s rules anymore. I’m done.

    And she releases the kittens, embarrassing Spike even more. Because Buffy knows that Spike is in love with her and she also senses that she’s being used to fulfill some kind of fantasy, she’s taking out her anger at the day’s events on Spike – who is using her presence to act out his fantasy of Buffy as another partner akin to Drusilla.

    It’s notable that Spike’s language with Buffy is entirely different than that of his poker partners. To Buffy, he says that they’re all “lowlifes” – to the poker players, Buffy’s “the bird” and “my good luck charm” and “my Lady.” Spike is so busy trying to play both sides that he loses the game in a larger sense. And Buffy is disgusted by this and we see the first of two attempts to whittle the men who seemingly belittle her down to size:

    BUFFY: You were gonna help me! You were gonna beat heads and fix my life! But you’re completely lame! Tonight sucks…and the only person I can even stand to be with anymore is a neutered vampire who cheats at Kitten Poker!

    And after this verbal deflation of Spike’s manhood (note the neutered line not only refers to Spike’s chip, but Spike’s behavior as well), Spike looks ashamed – and then almost loses his temper when Buffy turns to leave – but swallows it and follows Buffy outside. He rubs his eyes, upset. The night isn’t going as he had hoped – but he sees one more chance for fun as he runs into Buffy outside and believes for a brief, happy moment, that she wants to steal the van that she’s staring at.

    And then the scene gets almost ridiculously metaphoric:

    ANDREW: Oh, she’s coming over here! What do we do?
    WARREN: Jonathan. Grab your magic bone.


    And a huge “HORNED” demon comes out from behind the van to confront Buffy. With a giant skull codpiece. Really.

    And as Buffy kicks the demon’s ass (as Stoney says, there is a joke here in which Buffy swings to hit Jonathan and misses because he falls short in reality – har-har) – as Spike runs up to help Buffy, she almost takes a swing at him as well:

    BUFFY: I’m okay. I got it. Get off me.

    And Spike holds up his hands – no touching the Buffy.

    As Jonathan retreats to the van, Warren and Andrew approach:

    ANDREW: The Slayer touched you.
    JONATHAN: Yeah, that was sexy the way she touched me real hard with her fists. I only look big. I actually have the proportional strength of – me.


    And that just about says it for all of the men who have tormented Buffy that day – from the Trio to the guys on the construction site to the candle dude to Spike, they only look big because that’s how they present themselves. And after Warren tries to give his mates a pep talk and rants that “It’s not over,” the guys relieve their unresolved tension by watching free cable porn.

    It’s interesting to see Buffy’s response to all of this when she discusses her day with Giles – she believes that the horned demon was testing her.

    BUFFY: I let the Demon set the rules.

    There’s an interesting exchange that’s cut here in which Buffy also complains about the Scoobies:

    BUFFY: I let all you guys do the same thing. Do this thing, be this way, blah, blah.

    And one assumes that we’re supposed to take Buffy’s words at face value – that she’s no longer going to live by society’s rules – or that of her friends. Cutting this line was interesting – did Whedon feel that the line was too revealing of what was to come next? Or did he feel that it seemed to be too much? Buffy’s last words – that Giles’ gift of money makes her feel safe:

    BUFFY: Knowing you’re always gonna be here.

    This is Buffy running away from the whole idea of Time – she wants it to stand still – no more change. I wanted to note that this idea of time passing and realities colliding is shown as Buffy prefaces all four situations with the same line “This is gonna be great!” – very enthusiastically before the class, then less so before the construction job. She actually suppresses a gagging reflex before saying it before her Magic Box gig and finally gives in after laying the same line on Spike and taking a shot, making a face of total disgust and voicing “BLEAGGGH!” This in-of-itself is a Groundhog Day scenario with each failed attempt at finding her purpose repeated until she receives the check from Giles and simply states, “This is great. More than great.” Because it feels as if her mom is back – that there is someone there to tote that barge and lift that bale for her – to shoulder her burden a bit as Ol’ Man River just keeps rolling along.
    ***************************************

    Guy, sorry for taking so long to respond to your review!

    Buffy episode 6x06, 'All the Way', was the most disappointing thing since my son. I mean, how much more can you possibly f*&@k up the entire premise of 'Buffy'? And while my son eventually hanged himself in the bathroom of a gas station, the unfortunate reality of 'All the Way' is that it'll be around. Forever. It'll never go away. It can never be undone.
    Love your tribute to that infamous review of The Phantom Menace – which sadly can never be undone. Except in fan videos where Jar Jar Binks is edited out of the story!

    Yes, All the Way is probably one of the weakest episodes in the Buffyverse in terms of structure – so much of it feels like setup rather than an actual episode. And it doesn’t help that the theme of the episode is about reality not meeting expectations. If Life Serial was about Time, then this episode was about stagnation. It’s surprising, because the Halloween episodes tend to be among the best – Halloween, Fear Itself – but the move to UPN seems to have committed the Buffyverse to a reboot of the first few seasons as seen through Dawn’s eyes. And as you point out, that was a major mistake.

    I just thought it was necessary to start this review by addressing the elephant in the room – the fact that 'All the Way' is no one's favorite episode. It's not a favorite episode of mine either, and I'm a huge fan of both season 6 and Dawn (who is the focal point of the episode). Something clearly went wrong with this one. And yet, like ALL Buffy episodes, there's also a lot to like here, too. So, in this review I'm gonna try to separate the good from the Dawn, and hopefully come out of this with a better understanding of the Buffyverse, or a better understanding of storytelling in general, or at least a better understanding of how much typing can make your hand bleed. Spoiler alert – it bleeds. Bleeds out the ASS. But not literally. So let's get to it, shall we?

    1. NO ONE CARES ABOUT CHARACTERS THAT THEY DON'T CARE ABOUT! (Or: Foreshadowing the potential slayers)

    So gather 'round, kiddies, and listen to a little bit of storytelling 101, from a guy who never wrote a single story in his life. Because speaking from experience is totally overrated. You see, the most basic question that we should ask ourselves at the beginning of a story is "why should I care enough to watch this?" Or, in other words – how can the storyteller make the audience give a shit? Stories can do this with a variety of ways, but the most basic, most important way of doing it is to create characters that the audience relates to. If the audience relates to a character, then the audience will feel the same feelings that that character feels throughout the story. If you relate to Buffy, then you will feel her joy when she wins the class-protector award, and you will cry with her when she finds her mom's dead body, and you will be just as scared as she is when she loses her superpowers and has to fight in the cruciamentum, and so on. And that experience will be enjoyable or useful to the audience in some way. I can't really explain how or why, but trust me on this.
    Oooh, oooh, I can explain!

    A protagonist must have a want, a goal, a need – something that we can understand – and something that stops them from fulfilling that need. Something has to happen – an event, an awakening, a meeting – that starts the character on their journey. That is the inciting incident – the weaker the need and the action, the more the story fails for the reader/viewer. Most of the time, what the protagonist wants is not what they should want – and the drama rests in that tug-of-war between them.

    We don’t have to agree with what the character wants – we just have to love their journey to find what they need. Sometimes characters want something they should not have – and we enjoy watching them slowly become monsters in the process. Sometimes characters learn something and become heroes – and we enjoy reading about their exploits.

    But there HAS to be a compelling need in the first place – something that takes us on their quest. Lots of plot twists and dramatic climaxes and downturns – but something that is connected with the very structure of the work itself. The more that the structural upheavals are connected to the protagonist’s need, the more effective the whole work is.

    Now, the actual process of making the audience relate to a character is too complicated to address at the moment, but the relevant point is that once you DO IT, once you create relatable characters, then you've hit the jackpot. As long as you tell stories about those relatable characters, and as long as those characters remain relatable, then the audience will care about your stories and enjoy them at least a little.
    Well, how to make a character relatable is simple - by the middle of the piece, we should have a good idea of who the character is and what they really want (as opposed to what they thought they wanted.) There is a choice that has to be made – continue on the same journey or branch off into something very different. And the more their desires change and the journey shifts, the more invested the reader/viewer is in their journey.

    And then we have a “crisis” moment in which the climax occurs – the moment in which the protagonist makes their choice as to whether they will continue to pursue their need to the end – or whether they will change the desire altogether. The decision is often the actual drama of the story – what will they choose? Will Rick in Casablanca become a fighter for freedom or not? Will Michael Corleone allow himself to be corrupted by killing his father’s attempted killers?

    But if a writer is dishonest – if the author is not able to maintain belief in the active journey of the character – then the script will be one big fail.

    And now we come back to 'All the Way', and its central sin – the fact that it doesn't focus on our main characters, whose relatability has been slowly growing more and more over the last 5 seasons. Instead, the episode spends much of its run-time on the adventures of Dawn and her new teenage friends, who we only meet for the first (and only) time in this episode, and about whom we DON'T GIVE A SHIT. I couldn't tell you the name of ANY of those three teenagers from my memory, and I've only just rewatched this episode an hour ago. This decision by the writers, the decision to focus so much on the new unrelatable characters instead of focusing on the old relatable characters, is the literal definition of "not playing to your strengths". It's like if Glory tried to defeat Buffy by challenging her to a game of riddles. If you have relatable characters, USE THEM!
    Well, the biggest problem with these characters is that they aren’t really given any function beyond a simple fake-out – we’re supposed to believe that Dawn’s true desire is to hang out with a Gary Sue that we’ve never even heard of before – but it has no connection to the show. If Dawn had told him that her sister was the Slayer – if she had lied about him to Tara or Willow or Spike or someone – if she had even lied to him – then there might be a little pushback against her desires – an audience expectation that would have enlivened the proceedings. But her desire isn’t any different from any clichéd teen movie desire – there’s nothing specific that would connect it to the main plot of Buffy returning from the dead or being the Slayer or Dawn living in a world of vampires. They could have connected it to her belief that she is the Key and therefore a monster – unlovable – and could even have explained that she half-knew these guys were monsters and she wanted to be with them because she felt herself a monster.

    But instead, we are given a conventional teen romance that isn’t very interesting because the need isn’t compelling enough – Spike’s need for Buffy is compelling because he’s a vampire without a soul who can’t seemingly win the girl of his dreams for that very reason. Characters who go against their own nature are always interesting – but we’re not even given THAT. Instead, we get some lame dialogue about whether the two vamps should eat Dawn and Janice – or turn them. It’s one or the other – who cares? And so we don’t care.

    Sure, there can be a moment where we believe that a protagonist has resolved the initial desire – and everything’s looking like it's going to be happily ever after. And this happens in All The Way – but it’s not replaced with anything. Just desire that goes nowhere. And this kind of unfocused narrative doesn’t lend itself to creating compelling characters. If Dawn’s focus isn’t really on the boy – but on her sister – then he’s just a plastic Ken Doll filling in for something else.

    And the unfocused writing carries over to the antagonist – we’re led to believe that old man child killer is the bad guy of the episode – and as in the opening scene of Buffy, it’s opposite day. However – he did act awfully weird and pranced about saying very disturbing things as he sharpened his giant Sweeney Todd knife – the better to cut you with, my dear – so the vamp killing him means about as much to the audience as if Angel decided to take out Jeffrey Dahmer – yes, Buffy would complain about a fair trial and such – but would an audience really shed a single tear?

    So there’s a mishmash of purpose here that really doesn’t work that well.

    Unfortunately, this isn't the first or last time that the writers of the Buffyverse would make this mistake. In the early seasons of the show (as well as the early seasons of 'Angel'), the show was practically PLAGUED by such mistakes, with all of the monster-of-the-week episodes. And in the later years, two instances in particular reminded me of this same problem: The potential Slayers in season 7 of 'Buffy', and the introduction of teenaged Connor in episode 20 of season 3 of 'Angel'. In both cases, the mistake of focusing on new, unrelatable characters spawned some of the most reviled storylines of the Buffyverse. But unfortunately, this already-crippling flaw is not the only problem with this burning hunk of mediocrity. No, the writers had even more tricks of mediocrity up their sleeves here…

    2. Seduction! Of boring…

    The second biggest problem with 'All the Way' is the main theme of the episode. What is the theme of the episode, you ask? Well, it's right there in the title – it's about people going "all the way". Specifically, it's about people going "all the way" in BAD things, due to bad reasons like peer pressure and hedonistic urges. I like to call this theme "the seduction theme". Dawn "goes rogue" with her friends, and almost gets killed by vampires. Xander announces his engagement to Anya, and almost immediately regrets it. Willow continues to dabble in magic "to make people happy", and it throws a giant-sized wrench in her relationship with Tara. Buffy lets Dawn go visit her friends against her better judgement, and Dawn abuses that trust. SOUND FAMILIAR? Yes, yes it does. It sounds familiar because the Buffyverse had dealt with this theme in SO MANY EPISODES by now. Remember the VERY FIRST EPISODE OF THE SHOW? You know, the one in which Buffy told Willow that "life is short", and Willow almost got killed because she followed that advice? Yeah, it's the same seduction theme here, too. The show also tackled that same theme in 'Teacher's Pet', and in 'Never Kill a Boy on the First Date', and in 'I Robot, You Jane', and in 'Reptile Boy', and in SO MANY OTHER EPISODES. The most popular and classic example of that theme is probably 'Bad Girls'. Even if some people liked this theme in those early episodes of the show (personally, I was never a huge fan of it in the first place), it is clear that almost EVERYONE was sick of it by season 6. When Dawn started giggling over how naughty her Halloween tricks were, the audience didn't giggle with her. The audience didn't giggle with her, because the audience already giggled with Buffy and Willow and Xander when they did those same things in the high school seasons. By season 6, the audience was tired of that old puritanical theme, and wanted something NEW. That said, let's not be too harsh here – the seduction theme is a big part of ANY story, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Seduction is a big part of life, after all, and comes in many different forms, and storytelling should reflect that. Episodes like 'Smashed' and 'Normal Again' also deal with the seduction theme, but they manage to do it much more successfully. The difference is in the REASONS for the seduction. In 'Smashed' and 'Normal Again', the seduction is caused by nihilism and depression – elements which were not explored extensively by the show before season 6. In 'All the Way', however, the reasons for Dawn's seduction are peer pressure and teenage hormones, and those elements were already very thoroughly explored by the show in the early seasons.
    Yes, this is a great point – we’re getting a replay of Buffy the Younger and it doesn’t seem to fit at all because it feels like a rerun. Sadly, I think that the writer was intending that link to be made – we were supposed to realize the linkage between Buffy now and Buffy then – but it doesn’t read at all. The endless scenes with Dawn’s paramour don’t help either – especially after we’ve been given little reason to care.

    The script of All the Way is by Stephen S. DeKnight and I have to say, reading the shooting script clarifies a few things for me as opposed to seeing it – which is never a good sign of a well-crafted script. The first is that there is meant to be a major parallel between the marriage of Xander and Anya and the tragic relationship of Buffy and Angel. After Anya and Xander announce their engagement, Anya makes this touching speech:

    ANYA: I’m the luckiest ex-demon in the world. To be able to find the one person in all dimensions that I was meant to be with and have everything work out exactly as I dreamed. How often does the universe allow that to happen?

    And then the stage direction says this:

    She hugs Xander close, not seeing how her words have hit Buffy right in the Angel parallel. Buffy and Xander eye each other, both feeling the need to escape.

    We also get many stage directions throughout the episode about Buffy looking at various lovers, mourning the fact that they all have someone and she does not. Stage directions about Buffy feeling jealous about Anya and Xander. Stage directions about the air being charged between Buffy and Spike. And I think that the episode was SUPPOSED to be about Buffy feeling that she screws up all her romantic relationships and she longs to have someone – anyone – which explains why she finally gives into her sexual desire for Spike. As she says in Wrecked, he’s convenient. Does Buffy really believe that deep down? Perhaps not – but his soullessness allows her to see him as always lesser than Angel – and therefore she doesn’t have to worry about Spike’s feelings at all beyond the immediate sensations of sex.

    And the second is that we are obviously meant to see that all of the couples in All the Way are looking for an ideal “one true pairing” relationship like the failed Buffy/Angel relationship and are willing to do anything to get it because of peer pressure – the kind that makes Dawn do bad things with bad kids. And how this relates to who they used to be in the first season – we hear a lot of throwbacks to Season One with Xander’s line about Dawn’s pretense of being at Janice’s house and vice versa:

    XANDER: Dipping into the classic. Gotta respect that.

    Or Willow’s description of herself:

    WILLOW: It’s where I’d be if I were fifteen and on the lam…Well, not me at fifteen, cause hello – spaz!
    TARA: What?
    WILLOW: Hard to believe such a hot mama yama came from such humble, geek-infested roots.


    And we learn that Willow hasn’t really told Tara much about her life in Seasons One and Two.

    And then there’s the callback to Angel:

    DAWN: Oh, like you’ve never fallen for a vampire.
    BUFFY: That was different.
    DAWN: It always is when it’s you.


    The episode seems to be centered on the impossiblity of getting the fairy-tale romance that everyone seems to be looking for – but playing it up for one’s social group. Buffy apparently is still mooning over Angel – that unseen meeting has developed into a full-fledged belief that Buffy will never find anyone. And here comes Spike lurking about – making sexual innuendo in the hopes that Buffy will finally forget about Angel and see him and fall into his arms. We see Xander make an impulsive choice to reveal his engagement with Anya when he sees her at her best – and Anya creating a fantastical tale of romantic perfection that spans dimensions as Xander guiltily watches her.

    Dawn watches these couples with fascination and takes off in the hopes of having a romantic adventure of her own – like the rest, she ignores the growing sense that something is wrong in the hopes that the fantasy in her head will match the reality in the end.

    And then there’s Willow and Tara – bickering over Willow’s over-use of magic – and yet ending in the only fairy-tale ending for any couple in the episode because of Willow’s magic. As for Giles, not only does he have to leave as you aptly point out because the characters have to strike out on their own, but there’s an unspoken implication that he feels he has a possibility of finding romance if he can gnaw off his own foot to escape the bear-trap of Sunnydale.

    But the idea behind the episode never came together – and I put the blame solely on the writer. Instead of mentioning Buffy’s depression over Angel in the stage directions as subtext, this should have been stated overtly somewhere in the text. It’s hard enough to distinguish between Buffy’s angst over coming back to life and Buffy’s angst over her money issues – but now we’re expected to distinguish both from her angst over the failure of the relationships with Riley and Angel? And if that isn’t clear, then the whole Vamp Lover’s Lane thing falls apart as does the parallel with Dawn as a young woman making the same mistake as Buffy. Only the small mention at the end when Buffy becomes angry at Dawn gives us any indication that Dawn’s acting out is partly about Buffy’s past – and when it comes, it’s too late.

    The other scoobies fare better in this episode, but still not MUCH better. Xander, who has been hesitant about his engagement to Anya all season, has finally succumbed to his feelings and announced it, in a really sweet scene… Only to immediately regret it. Because, as Giles put it: "Anya is a wonderful former vengeance demon. I'm sure you'll spend... many years of... non-hell-dimensional bliss. Sidebar – Dawn was totally jealous when she saw Anya and Xander engaged. Don't worry, Dawnster. You'll hit that too, one day. In the meantime, you can practice on vampires Anyway, while Xander has a good story going on with the "All the Way" theme, Buffy decides to go "all the way" on her "avoid my responsibilities at all costs" policy – going patrolling with Spike when she's sick of the magic box, and leaving the job of lecturing Dawn to Giles. Willow also gets into a whole lot of seduction in this episode, continuing her abuse of magic. And like the others, she also finally takes it "all the way" – wiping Tara's mind after an argument, so that they could continue to com-shuk. All of these other side-plots fare better than Dawn's, due to the fact that they don't concentrate on unrelatable characters and don't recycle the old high-school themes… But they're still far from being good enough to save this episode – they're still recycling the ol' seduction formula of years past, and they barely advance the character arcs beyond where they were in 'Life Serial'.
    Yes, Even the opening is a bit disappointing – we see Giles in his wizard outfit, Xander as a pirate, Anya as one of Charlie’s “Angels” – and no one else in costume. Why? Willow makes a bit of sense as she complains about the stereotype of a witch as an evil, ugly figure with a wart – she’s obviously dressed as a good witch. But Tara is dressed as nothing – which underlines her attitude in the episode as the anti-Blanche DuBois: “I don’t want magic – I want realism!” as opposed to Willow’s sunny “Witches are never evil!” which pokes us through the eye with its authorial foreboding.

    And apparently Dawn is dressed for Halloween as a child far younger than she is - her Hello, Kitty shirt is at odds with her adult interest in romance and sexuality. The whole Shiver Me Timbers joke is so inadequate to address this – from Anya’s first mention to Tara trying to shield Dawn to Dawn’s inept and creepy callback after her first kiss – that it makes me shudder in pity and terror for the writer.

    As for the other main plot points – Spike echoes Buffy in Life Serial who echoes Spike in Fool for Love who echoes Buffy in earlier episodes in which Buffy proclaims that she doesn’t stick to the rules of the dusty old Watcher’s Council:

    SPIKE: ‘Cause that’s what I do. I go where I please and take what I want and what’s your excuse anyway?

    And one assumes that Buffy find this liberating or she would barely tolerate the constant stream of double-entendres coming from Spike – who looks amazed that Buffy hasn’t broken his nose yet. It’s interesting to see that Buffy and Spike have apparently been patrolling together ever since Life Serial – and no one else seems to think it’s unusual either even after the events of last year. But we see that peer pressure – the fear that others will think that Buffy’s chosen the WRONG person to have sex with – stops her from telling anyone about her secret affair when it happens.

    The reaction to Xander’s reveal that he is getting married to Anya is bizarre to me – didn’t Buffy cry last year over their perfect love when Riley left her? But everyone now acts like Anya is the worst possible choice for Xander – we’ve been led to understand that Willow isn’t the biggest fan – but Buffy? Giles? Tara? Why would they all look as if Xander had announced a prison sentence? Is it really about the marriage – or is the shock of realizing that they’ve all grown so far apart that no one was prepared for this? Willow in particular looks crushed at the thought that she’s become so estranged from Xander that it’s a total surprise to her. And it doesn’t help when her effort to make the room a party place is shut down by Tara. As Tara becomes more controlling, Willow pulls away from her even more. It’s the Giles effect – the fight that Willow had with Giles in the last episode has torn a lot of her confidence away and filled her with fear. Echoes of Giles’ insults dance in her head as Tara admonishes her.

    I also really don’t like the way that Giles sets Buffy up – when she asks Giles if it’s a good idea to let Dawn go over Janice’s house, Giles says:

    GILES: It’s really not up to me.

    And then he proceeds to huff and puff the entire episode because Buffy did the wrong thing. His bravery in the final scene is fantastic – but his constant disappointment in Buffy and Willow – and now Xander – just continues to deepen. But after the confrontation with Willow, he’s determined to keep his mouth shut. But I find speeches like this to be the height of hypocrisy considering Giles’ own misspent youth:

    GILES: Still, we cant ignore this kind of behavior. Something has to be done before it spins out of control.

    Is Giles smarting from being called Grampa?

    And speaking of Xander – who announces their engagement on Halloween? I mean, I know this is Buffy – but you’d think that would be the LAST day that Xander would announce it.

    In a sense, the entire episode is about everyone moving in their own corner and acting out a part that’s expected of them without even remotely trying to see the other side. As StateofSiege said, Season Six is partly about estrangement – and no one is communicating with anyone else. And some of this is due to peer pressure – the fear that one will lose everything by being honest.

    And this is paralleled by Dawn and her friends – I think we’re meant to see that Dawn is pretending to enjoy being a juvenile delinquent because it makes her feel as if she’s part of a group instead of staying isolated. Her desire for the boy isn’t really about him – it’s about making herself feel like an adult who matters instead of a kid who has to be handled. The direction should have shown us a slightly uneasy Dawn, however – one who is torn between running on the wild side and feeling compassion for someone else. I agree with vampmogs that her behavior is a little hard to take here.

    And I did notice the weird call-forward to Lies My Parents Told Me – Justin’s attempted siring of Dawn is eerily similar to William assuring his mother that it won’t hurt that much.

    So, now that we've established the main flaws of the episode… What DOES work about 'All the Way'?

    3. Cliffhangers to the rescue!

    The main reason that this episode works (Or, at least, doesn't leave us wanting to kill ourselves) is the unresolved nature of its ending. Despite sticking to the "seduction" formula throughout most of the episode, 'All the Way' breaks it in one way – it doesn't end with the characters learning their lesson and moving on. Instead, the episode ends with everything still being WRONG: Buffy is still shirking her responsibilities by over-relying on Giles, Xander's engagement is still going on despite his doubts, and Willow still abuses her magic. In fact, rather than resolving their issues, the scoobies fall deeper into them – Willow in particular crosses a BIG line, by erasing Tara's memories.
    This is a big departure from the usual nature of the early Buffy episodes that employed the seduction formula – most of these episodes ended with a big fight against a phallic monster or a vagina monster, which the scoobies won, and after which the scoobies learned from their mistakes and became better people. In 'All the Way', however, we're left with the creepy image of Tara cuddling up to Willow after her memory was erased. No lessons learned, no problems solved. This is an almost unprecedented departure from the ol' seduction formula – the only other seduction-y episode which ended like that is 'Bad Girls'/'Consequences', which ended with Faith joining the Mayor. The ending of 'All the Way', however, is even more disturbing. Faith had "bad news" written on her forehead ever since she was first introduced, and her fall to evil came as a shock to no one. Buffy, Willow and Xander, however, are our MAIN characters, and we expect them to learn their lesson after such episodes. This kind of serialized storytelling is one of the defining traits of season 6. Instead of having the scoobies defeat the big monster and learn the lesson that that monster represented, as always happened in the previous seasons, season 6 has the scoobies defeat the monster, only to find that their problems are still there. We've seen this in the season premiere – the biker gang was defeated, and Dawn stopped Buffy from jumping to death, and Buffy saved Dawn from the crumbling tower… But in the end, when Dawn hugged Buffy and told her that she's home, Buffy's response was:
    Excellent points, Guy!

    That’s a terrific callback to Reptile Boy – and you’re right. This episode ends with no one learning anything – unless it’s the wrong lesson.

    And that is what makes Buffy so unique in Season Six – the characters are so isolated in their own corners that they can’t remotely connect or self-reflect yet – no choices or decisions can be made because they’ve closed up the walls of opportunity.

    We've seen it in 'After Life', too – the creepy ghost thingy was defeated thanks to the combined efforts of the scoobies, and Buffy, Willow and Xander shared a hug, and all seemed well… And then Buffy gave her crushing "This is hell" speech, and showed us that these victories and hugs were completely hollow. And the same phenomena persisted in 'Flooded' and 'Life Serial' – the physical demons may be beaten, but the inner demons are still there in the end. In this way, season 6 essentially DESTROYS the old Buffy formula, and builds a new one. Instead of externalizing the characters' psychological issues as metaphorical monsters and tackling them through metaphorical violence, season 6 presents the psychological issues as psychological issues, and deals with them much more directly. Instead of blowing up demons with rocket launchers, Buffy now fights her demons in a more down-to-earth, "realistic" way. It's no wonder that this season is so controversial – it is a season that tried to break the very premise of the Buffyverse, and replace it with something new.
    Fantastic analysis of Season Six, Guy – totally agree with you that this season tries something that was rare for its time and took a major beating for it.

    I have to say, though, the fight at the end of this episode felt really “off” to me – the whole idea of a lover’s lane of vampires in cars seemed pretty far-fetched – as did the weird snaggle vampires who seemed to have crawled out of a trailer park. Surely the one line that the vamp hurls at Spike is among the worst ever in the Buffyverse regarding Spike’s chip and his fighting on the side of the Slayer:

    VAMP: What’s your malfunction, man?



    And it seems to take Spike thirty minutes to bring down this crappy vamp – are they all on vamp meth or something? Is there some super-drug epidemic among the fanged that allow them to kick Buffy and Spike’s butt for minutes at a time when they usually dust vamps in about two seconds? Unless the First has started a tribe of experimental uber-vamps in anticipation of the real thing, I just don’t get it at all.

    Personally, though, I loved every single moment of it. TV shows always tend toward a status quo, toward a formula, and I always admire the few TV shows who dare to break their formula and bring real change to their stories. Moreover, this change in structure fit the coming-of-age story of Buffy very well – if the early seasons felt like 'Sabrina the Teenage Witch', this new season felt much closer to 'The Sopranos' (of course, 'Buffy' is much better than both 'Sabrina the Teenage Witch' and 'The Sopranos'), and this change felt appropriate to show the coming-of-age of Buffy and the scoobies. So, those are my thoughts about 'All the Way'… Well, the main ones, anyway. I also had an entire section about Dawn as a character, and about how she compares to Angel's Connor, but that seemed really off-topic, so I cut it out (And also, the entire thing was essentially a really lengthy way of saying that both Dawn and Connor would have benefited from being more like the character of Ciri, from the 'Witcher' franchise). So have a great weekend, folks, and don't forget to do the dance of capitalist superiority!
    Loved your thoughts about Dawn and Connor as examples of an all too common effort to introduce younger characters – and yes, I have played Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and I think it’s a brilliant game! One of my favorites – except for that mother-f**ing cow quest!

    Funny, I wouldn’t even think of comparing Ciri to Dawn – she’s almost a leading character in her own right whereas Dawn will always stay a supporting player to Buffy. And there’s a huge difference again in that Ciri is an adopted daughter to the lead – and therefore more of a choice in the non-familial sense – but Dawn and Connor are thrust upon Buffy and Angel as “blood” relatives. Which causes a viewer to relate them differently to the main character – and not always in the best way, either.

    Thanks, Guy, for a fabulous review. Really looking forward to your next one!

    And I’m looking forward to Witcher 4 – if it ever comes. Meantime, it’s Fallout 4 for me – again!
    Last edited by American Aurora; 03-05-17 at 12:07 PM.

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  29. #195
    Sunnydale High Student Guy's Avatar
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    Stoney:

    Not particularly to be honest. Some teen friendships are pretty shallow and, as I say, I think her willingness to seek acceptance even in a puddle of depth gives a good idea of how isolated she is feeling in a way it wouldn't have so much if they had been more interesting/established friendships. It may just be me though.
    Yes, these things can be very subjective, of course. I also sometimes don't mind undeveloped side-characters - like the poker-demons in 'Life Serial', for example. It bothers me in 'All the Way', but to each their own.

    I don't think I would have bought into Connor's complete brainwashing and his extreme choices as well if he had had some years of stable/happy 'real' interaction with the gang. That he was torn away before his nurtured personality is formed by other people than Holtz makes his extreme behaviour more believable and is also part of what makes seeing how he is like Angel really interesting. That he was taken as a baby was really tragic too for all that was lost and which the group never got to share/input with him too. Also then seeing Angel's responses to such a troubled teen reflect his own upbringing is just excellent. I just love this story arc, I really, really do. But I know plenty of people did/do dislike Connor and perhaps for the same reasons you don't like his story.
    You're right - the main reason I offer such drastic changes to Connor's story is because, well, I just don't really LIKE the story we got with him. But again, this is subjective. And it could also have to do with the fact that I never really liked Angel either...

    Nah, it gets all cloying and stops tasting so yummy when you have too much.
    LIES! Lies, I say!

    www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/10/joss-whedon-ships-spike-and-buffy

    You may well be right as they do 'reveal' the cakes as the monster in Justin is revealed to be the real danger, for sure. But it doesn't really matter even if Kaltenbach was only a harmless, but creepy old man. The potential darker reflections can be considered and the possibility he was in fact sinister too was there as another question over assumptions, perceptions as much as if it turned out he wasn't. And of course the whole thing is still playing along with this notion of 'what is hidden' and also the danger that humans can hold within too.
    Am I the only one who kinda liked the creepy old man? He was gonna give them cake!

    Vampmogs:

    It's funny that Guy mentioned how great he thought the fight scene was because whenever I think of this episode I always think about how awful I think it is I think the stunts on BtVS really peaked in BtVS S4 and never quite matched them again once they were forced to hire a new stuntwoman/team for BtVS S5. I'm generally not a fan of how Buffy's fighting style changes completely in the fifth season (rather than being hard and fast she starts doing all these unnecessary flips and gymnastics and the fights tend to look far slower and more choreographed) but they were at least, for the most part, inspired. You could tell they were trying. Wheres, I find S6 to be absolutely the worst season of the show in regards to the stunt work (besides the obvious poor fight scenes in S1) and it was like they barley put any effort into the choreography whatsoever. This fight scene is a classic example of how poor I found it to be with the absolute lame sequence between Buffy and the vampire, where it's hard to imagine that this is the same show that delivered us such breathtakingly fast and brutal fight sequences like Buffy VS Faith in Graduation Day. I have no problems with Buffy having difficulty with a single vampire, it's refreshing and I like that actually, but it just looked awful. It has some really horrible and lame slow punches and kicks and some pitiful editing like when the car window is clearly shattered before the vampire kicks it. It's frankly embarrassing to watch.
    Well, I mostly liked the stunts - especially the whole thing with the car. And you know, 'Buffy' isn't exactly 'Daredevil'. The fight scenes were almost always the worst part of the show - they could rarely be described as more than decent.

    And I actually preferred the fight choreography in the later seasons - less flashy, but more gritty and visceral and involving. Plus, the stunt doubles became less obvious. I still remember how I was shocked and enthralled the first time I saw the opening fight scene of 'Buffy vs Dracula'. Buffy looked so WILD! It was less Daredevil-y, but more Hulk-y.

    American Aurora:

    Hey, Guys (and Guy)!

    Sorry it’s been so long, but real life has really tied me down lately. I’ve been rushing to complete Once More With Feeling for the past month and some stuff came up that caused a lot of delays in work – but it’s almost all resolved now! My apologies, Guy, for not responding to your review until now!
    No worries! I've often been in the same boat.

    And I agree with the majority of what you said, so I'll mostly respond to the stuff I disagree with.

    Love your tribute to that infamous review of The Phantom Menace – which sadly can never be undone. Except in fan videos where Jar Jar Binks is edited out of the story!
    They'd also have to cut Anakin, and Padme, and most of the CGI characters, and... Yeah, just burn the whole thing to the ground.

    It’s surprising, because the Halloween episodes tend to be among the best – Halloween, Fear Itself – but the move to UPN seems to have committed the Buffyverse to a reboot of the first few seasons as seen through Dawn’s eyes. And as you point out, that was a major mistake.
    I don't think that the move to UPN had anything to do with this, and I don't think that this is a problem outside of 'All the Way' (and maybe 'Older and Far Away', too). Most of the time in season 6, Dawn doesn't feel like a retread of young Buffy - she feels like Buffy's familial bond, which is what she should be.

    Oooh, oooh, I can explain!
    Please do!

    A protagonist must have a want, a goal, a need – something that we can understand – and something that stops them from fulfilling that need. Something has to happen – an event, an awakening, a meeting – that starts the character on their journey. That is the inciting incident – the weaker the need and the action, the more the story fails for the reader/viewer. Most of the time, what the protagonist wants is not what they should want – and the drama rests in that tug-of-war between them.

    We don’t have to agree with what the character wants – we just have to love their journey to find what they need. Sometimes characters want something they should not have – and we enjoy watching them slowly become monsters in the process. Sometimes characters learn something and become heroes – and we enjoy reading about their exploits.

    But there HAS to be a compelling need in the first place – something that takes us on their quest. Lots of plot twists and dramatic climaxes and downturns – but something that is connected with the very structure of the work itself. The more that the structural upheavals are connected to the protagonist’s need, the more effective the whole work is.

    Well, how to make a character relatable is simple - by the middle of the piece, we should have a good idea of who the character is and what they really want (as opposed to what they thought they wanted.) There is a choice that has to be made – continue on the same journey or branch off into something very different. And the more their desires change and the journey shifts, the more invested the reader/viewer is in their journey.

    And then we have a “crisis” moment in which the climax occurs – the moment in which the protagonist makes their choice as to whether they will continue to pursue their need to the end – or whether they will change the desire altogether. The decision is often the actual drama of the story – what will they choose? Will Rick in Casablanca become a fighter for freedom or not? Will Michael Corleone allow himself to be corrupted by killing his father’s attempted killers?

    But if a writer is dishonest – if the author is not able to maintain belief in the active journey of the character – then the script will be one big fail.
    Thanks for this! I'm actually studying these stuff right now, so this is useful in more than one way!

    I have to add, though - I think that it's more complicated than this. I think that to create relatable characters, you need something more than this technical process. There's also the subjective aspect - how much does the character reflect an audience member's life. This is why some characters are NOT relatable, despite doing this process to a T. For example - the character of Angel never felt relatable to me, despite fulfilling this process that you've described. And characters who DON'T fulfill this proces can also be relatable sometimes, due to some outside factor. It's complicated, is what I'm saying.

    The script of All the Way is by Stephen S. DeKnight and I have to say, reading the shooting script clarifies a few things for me as opposed to seeing it – which is never a good sign of a well-crafted script.
    Which is a shame, because DeKnight is actually one of my favorite Buffyverse writers. I guess everyone has off days...

    And apparently Dawn is dressed for Halloween as a child far younger than she is - her Hello, Kitty shirt is at odds with her adult interest in romance and sexuality.
    That never bothered me, because it fits - Dawn is immature. Partially because of how overprotective Buffy and Joyce are when it comes to her. It's a constant character trait, from her inability to eat ice-cream properly in season 5, to her inability to eat pizza properly in season 7. Someone teach that girl some table manners, already!

    The whole Shiver Me Timbers joke is so inadequate to address this – from Anya’s first mention to Tara trying to shield Dawn to Dawn’s inept and creepy callback after her first kiss – that it makes me shudder in pity and terror for the writer.
    I liked that joke at the beginning, with Anya and Tara. Puns and sex-humor? Classic Buffyverse! The callback didn't really work, though... Probably because that Dawn/Justin storyline as a whole didn't work.

    And one assumes that Buffy find this liberating or she would barely tolerate the constant stream of double-entendres coming from Spike – who looks amazed that Buffy hasn’t broken his nose yet.
    He does? Why would Bufy punch him for sexual innuendos? She hasn't done anything like that since their kiss in 'Intervention'.

    It’s interesting to see that Buffy and Spike have apparently been patrolling together ever since Life Serial – and no one else seems to think it’s unusual either even after the events of last year.
    Well, Spike has been patrolling with the scoobies too in the summer. Patrolling with Spike seems like a perfectly natural thing at this point.

    The reaction to Xander’s reveal that he is getting married to Anya is bizarre to me – didn’t Buffy cry last year over their perfect love when Riley left her?
    She's perfectly happy for Xander. She's just sad because their engagement reminds her of her own loneliness. I think it makes sense.

    But everyone now acts like Anya is the worst possible choice for Xander – we’ve been led to understand that Willow isn’t the biggest fan – but Buffy? Giles? Tara? Why would they all look as if Xander had announced a prison sentence? Is it really about the marriage – or is the shock of realizing that they’ve all grown so far apart that no one was prepared for this? Willow in particular looks crushed at the thought that she’s become so estranged from Xander that it’s a total surprise to her.
    I think the shock was mostly due to the fact that Xander is getting married in such a young age. Plus, Willow never really liked Anya.

    I also really don’t like the way that Giles sets Buffy up – when she asks Giles if it’s a good idea to let Dawn go over Janice’s house, Giles says:

    GILES: It’s really not up to me.
    I have no problem with that. Giles has to help Buffy take control of her life - and sometimes, that means letting her make her own decisions, and acknowledging her mistakes when they happen. And after Buffy's shirking of her responsibilities in the previous episodes, it makes sense that he'd be pushy about it. Good parenting, IMO.

    But I find speeches like this to be the height of hypocrisy considering Giles’ own misspent youth:

    GILES: Still, we cant ignore this kind of behavior. Something has to be done before it spins out of control.
    Hypocrisy? It's only hypocrisy if Giles is STILL acting like that, which he's not. Speeches like this are simply an examples of Giles wanting the scoobies to learn from his mistakes. Giles is 100% fine in this episode, IMO.


    And speaking of Xander – who announces their engagement on Halloween? I mean, I know this is Buffy – but you’d think that would be the LAST day that Xander would announce it.
    Yeah, but if I saw Anya doing the dance of capitalist superiority, I'd want to instantly anounce the engagement too.

    the whole idea of a lover’s lane of vampires in cars seemed pretty far-fetched – as did the weird snaggle vampires who seemed to have crawled out of a trailer park.
    Well, it's Sunnydale.

    Surely the one line that the vamp hurls at Spike is among the worst ever in the Buffyverse regarding Spike’s chip and his fighting on the side of the Slayer:

    VAMP: What’s your malfunction, man?
    What's so weird about it?

    I had a lot more problems with Spike being offended by the vampires going hunting on Halloween. Why would that offend him?

    And it seems to take Spike thirty minutes to bring down this crappy vamp – are they all on vamp meth or something? Is there some super-drug epidemic among the fanged that allow them to kick Buffy and Spike’s butt for minutes at a time when they usually dust vamps in about two seconds? Unless the First has started a tribe of experimental uber-vamps in anticipation of the real thing, I just don’t get it at all.
    Well, not all vampires are created equal.

    and yes, I have played Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and I think it’s a brilliant game!
    RIGHT?!

    One of my favorites – except for that mother-f**ing cow quest!
    There's... There's a quest with a cow?

    HOW DID I MISS THAT?!?!

    Funny, I wouldn’t even think of comparing Ciri to Dawn – she’s almost a leading character in her own right whereas Dawn will always stay a supporting player to Buffy.
    Yes, and that's my one major problem with Dawn - she should have become a leading character over time. 'The Gift' hinted at this with the "you have to take care of my friends now" line, and season 6 followed it up with Dawn wanting to join Buffy on patrolls, and finally helping her slay in 'Grave'. Season 7 didn't bring it to its conclusion though... Which is not terrible - 'Potential' did a terrific job of reconciling that aspect. But still, I think that the story as a whole and Dawn in particular would have benefitted from giving her a bigger role in season 7, as a leading part of the group, an heir to Buffy.

    Also, Dawn and Ciri have a pretty similar personality - both are unpretentious and snarky and headstrong, yet very caring and moral at the same time. And they both have a terrible destiny that they try to escape (the Key = the elder blood).

    And there’s a huge difference again in that Ciri is an adopted daughter to the lead – and therefore more of a choice in the non-familial sense – but Dawn and Connor are thrust upon Buffy and Angel as “blood” relatives. Which causes a viewer to relate them differently to the main character – and not always in the best way, either.
    Actually, Dawn and Ciri are very similar in that regard. Dawn and Buffy grew up as biological sisters, but Dawn is also partially a sister-by-choice - she isn't Buffy's REAL sister, after all. She's Buffy sister by choice, as well as by destiny.

    And Ciri is the same - she's Geralt's daughter by choice, but she's also his daughter by destiny - she's his "child of surprise", and the books make a whole thing about how they're destined to be together.

    You're right about Connor, though. Connor is all destiny/biology. He's Angel's biological son, and Angel loves him because he's his son.

    Thanks, Guy, for a fabulous review. Really looking forward to your next one!
    Thanks! Me too!

    And I’m looking forward to Witcher 4 – if it ever comes.
    Fingers crossed! Don't forsake us, CDPR!
    Last edited by Guy; 03-05-17 at 03:57 PM.
    Come on, I'm not a dog. I'm talking through the dog. He was nearby. I am a power without name, from a realm far above your petty-- Hey! Balls!
    HAHNANUMMANUMMA-SLURP-MMNN... Ho! Wait! Wait! Whoah! I can't help it! I'm housed in this animal. It's complicated!

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  31. #196
    Hellmouth Tourist Mariah's Avatar
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    I know I would be really perturbed if they changed the format on the show to widescreen if they ever release a BlueRay.

  32. #197
    Graveyard Patrol American Aurora's Avatar
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    Hey, Guys!

    It's time for another rewatch - and it's one of the most popular and beloved episodes of the Buffyverse, Once More With Feeling!

    It's quite long - so I'm planning to post one part a day until it's done. Please feel free to talk or criticize all you like in-between posts! And please let me know your thoughts on musicals - since that's what I do, I'm thrilled to hear anything and everything you have to say - even if you disagree!

    The first two posts are background pieces - and then we get to the episode. So, please bear with me and thanks in advance for your patience.

    And now...

    Once More With Feeling, Part One - Overture

    Robert Wise, editor of Citizen Kane and director of The Day the Earth Stood Still and the Oscar-winning West Side Story was having a bad day. Bursts of torrential rain were spoiling the little time that he had left to finish filming the opening of his latest film – 20th Century Fox executives had sent a telegram nixing any more overruns on the budget. Wise looked up at the unforgiving sky – he had one big shoot left and only enough money for one day of a helicopter rental – an enormous expense in the summer of 1964.



    His weariness was compounded by the difficulties in reaching his chosen setting – the local roads had been completely washed out, leaving one tiny path that could only be navigated by ox cart – which ended up pulling the cast, the crew and the camera and sound equipment along a very steep and treacherous path. The sole actor – the twenty-eight year old leading lady – was exhausted after her bumpy ride and barely able to push through the next six hours of shooting. A local farmer raced up and scolded the actress for scaring away his cows as the crew defended her and shooed him off.

    Take after take had to be scrapped – first due to the shadow of the helicopter covering its subject – the next copter swoop creating a backdraft so strong that it knocked the actress on her face. At one point, the actress started to swear and scream at the director – who was unable to hear her rant from his helicopter perch. Finally, the cameraman had to be strapped to the side of the helicopter to complete the shoot. And just in time – the small moment of cloudless skies ended as the rain poured down once again.



    But the director knew this shot had to be perfect – he understood that the first fifteen minutes set the tone and tenor of a musical. If the viewer failed to accept the initial set-up of the film’s musical premise – if they failed to buy the reality of the title character’s opening number – then the film would be a complete failure because the very premise of a musical depends upon the agreement between the creators and the audience that the absurdity of characters bursting into song is not only appropriate to tell a story, but even possibly more revealing of character and meaning than a documentary-like version of reality.



    For the later reveals truths through moments of supposedly unfiltered reality – a simulacrum of real life – but the former reveals truths through an intentional rejection of reality – a mythological reading of the subtext that lies behind real life. Like action movies and science fiction/fantasy genres, the musical relies upon a kind of narrative unreality that often reveals more than it obscures – but unlike the first two genres, it not only differs from a “realistic” film through fantastical content, but through time and form itself. The time of a dialogue-heavy scene runs differently from the time that drives a musical number – and the difference between them creates the dynamic fission that fuels a musical piece. Transformation is the sine qua non of the musical – without it, the musical cannot exist.



    And on that rainy day in the summer of 1964, Robert Wise surely knew that without it, his film would be a massive failure. And so the scene was taken over and over and over despite the frustration of cast, crew and disgruntled farmer until Wise finally felt he had captured the ineffable metamorphosis from reality to non-reality that any musical demands in its first few moments. If this didn’t work, then Wise felt that nothing would make the audience accept the film.

    Happily, it did work – it was the highest grossing film of 1965. And the highest grossing film of 1966. In fact, when adjusted for inflation, it became the second highest grossing film of all time after Gone With the Wind – until it was finally surpassed by another fantastical film, Star Wars. With a box office worth approximately $163,214,286.00 in 1965, it is still the third highest grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation - a whopping $1,262,985,624.92.



    And yet, this box office powerhouse in the end was responsible for the destruction of the movie musical for the next forty years and largely responsible for the dismal reputation of the Broadway musical until recent times. A victim of its own success, no one could dispute that musicals reached their profitmaking pinnacle and cultural nadir with The Sound of Music.



    At the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, Joss Whedon appeared with Mark Ruffalo to promote Avengers: Age of Ultron and let slip a tiny secret that surprised his audience:

    “I was actually working on a musical earlier…or last year. Something that was very much a departure from the movies I’ve done.” But progress on the tuner was halted for two reasons. The first was his exhaustion from filming his latest blockbuster: “I had a little hitch of my giddyup on the musical partially because after ‘Ultron,’ it was just too much…there were too many moving parts and I was like – I need to write something that I completely understand that I’m going to shoot. So, it’s taken a bit of a backseat.”



    The second reason was bit more unusual: “Also, something else happened. Nobody will be surprised, even remotely, to hear that that something was Hamilton.”



    It’s not surprising that it was on Whedon’s mind – the day before Whedon’s appearance, the author and star of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The Broadway musical premiered off-Broadway on January 20, 2015 and opened on Broadway to wild critical acclaim and incredible box office on August 6, 2015.



    A cultural phenomenon, the show’s tickets were bought and resold to the tune of 2,000 dollars apiece and the original cast album debuted at number 12 on the Billboard charts and soon reached number 1 in Billboard Rap albums, subsequently winning a Grammy Award.



    After such acclaim, Whedon decided that his musical could wait: “Which it was only after the album came out and I was listening to it 24/7 that I was like “I can’t hear myself. I can only hear him. So I was just like – I’ll get back to that – as soon as I stop listening to Hamilton in 2021.” Ruffalo laughed in response: “I don’t blame you.”



    And neither did anyone else. Hamilton marked a surprising resurgence of the Broadway musical as an art form that was directly at the center of American cultural consciousness. After a steady decline from the 1960s, the musical had slowly risen as a genre from its nadir in the early 1970s for forty years until it was back to the cultural prominence it had in the first half of the 20th century.



    Lin-Manuel Miranda, the son of a prominent political consultant, was influenced not only by the Broadway musicals he loved while growing up in Manhattan, but by hip hop, rap and the music of his parent’s native Puerto Rico.



    At Wesleyan (Whedon’s own alma mater), Miranda began to write his first musical, a tale set in the inter-racial neighborhood of Washington Heights where so many working class people aspired to be upwardly mobile. It would also be a show that would star Miranda himself as the nerdy bodega owner Usnavi. Free-style rap and salsa music intertwined with Cole Porter and Duke Ellington – with director Thomas Kail, the show went through five different versions before they managed to raise the money to mount the show titled In the Heights off-Broadway. After winning several awards, the show moved to Broadway in 2008 and won the Tony for Best Musical and Miranda for Best Actor.



    After In The Heights, Miranda dabbled in various projects like translating West Side Story lyrics by Stephen Sondheim into Spanish and co-writing a high school musical about cheerleaders vying for success in Bring it On – but all the time, he was working on a project that obsessed him. He had read the Ron Chernow biography of Alexander Hamilton and saw immediately the similarities between Hamilton – an immigrant from the East Indies who was “scrappy and hungry”- a genius who rose to great heights before suffering a spectacular fall ending in death by duel with Aaron Burr – and the story of immigrants coming into America today.



    Imagining a hip hop flavored musical that was still in the traditions of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Miranda worked with director Kail on The Hamilton Mixtape which was performed before the President in 2009 – eventually to open on Broadway at a theater named after the famed composer of The Sound of Music who inspired his score.



    Using a Brechtian device of hiring a multi-racial cast to represent the Americans with only King George as the only white cast member, Hamilton’s very casting commented on America’s troubled past through a vision of its future – enabling audience members to see the Founding Fathers free of old fashioned preconceptions. And a deft blending of modern music with homages to past musicals made the show more of a patchwork quilt construction rather than a straight-forward narrative. Jesse Green in New York Magazine:

    "The conflict between independence and interdependence is not just the show's subject but also its method: It brings the complexity of forming a union from disparate constituencies right to your ears.... Few are the theatergoers who will be familiar with all of Miranda's touchstones. I caught the verbal references to Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gilbert and Sullivan, Sondheim, West Side Story, and 1776, but other people had to point out to me the frequent hat-tips to hip-hop.”



    And the success of Hamilton turned out to be more than a just fluke in the growing movement to resurrect the musical as a major art form – the following year, La La Land premiered to ecstatic reviews that proclaimed the true return of the movie musical.



    It wasn’t easy – writer and director Damien Chazelle was determined "to take the old musical but ground it in real life where things don't always exactly work out" – finishing the screenplay in 2010, he found that Hollywood wasn’t quite ready for the musical’s resurgence – not one studio was willing to finance an original musical.



    So it took years before Chazelle was able to raise the funds for his personal project – his tribute to the movie musicals would emulate the widescreen Cinemascope movies by using Panavision equipment to shoot La La Land in a widescreen format. And his tribute to Hollywood movies – complete with homages to past glories from Fred and Ginger movies, Gene Kelly classics and the French musicals The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort of Jacques Demy.



    Reviews were ecstatic – The New York Times acclaimed the film, stating La La Land "succeeds both as a fizzy fantasy and a hard-headed fable, a romantic comedy and a showbiz melodrama, a work of sublime artifice and touching authenticity"



    And the film received a total of 14 Oscar Nominations (winning six) – tying with Titanic and All About Eve for most nominations ever. Budgeted at 30 million, La La Land grossed half a billion dollars worldwide, proving the public’s growing desire for musicals.



    But there had already been a constant drum-beat of musical movies, growing ever louder, that had achieved massive box office success – but most had already been Broadway hits for many years. The Oscar-winning Chicago in 2002 at 400,000 million, Mamma Mia with Meryl Streep in 2008 at 600,000 million, Les Miserables with Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway in an Oscar-winning performance at 500,000 million and the animated musical Frozen which grossed an amazing 1,276,000,000 dollars. The March 2017 release of the live-action Beauty and the Beast confirmed this, grossing over a billion dollars in only one month, making it the highest grossing live action film of all time before adjusting for inflation.



    So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Whedon was planning a Broadway musical in 2016 – after all, the genre that was closest to his heart as a teen was finally awakening as a major force in American culture after lying as dormant as a newly sired vampire in his grave – seemingly dead – but not quite. And a lot of that had to do with his own musical creation more than fifteen years ago.



    In American popular culture, the musical often takes a bow as the most reviled and misunderstood of all art forms. Not only do people eagerly profess their hatred of musicals, but they’re downright proud of it as if it makes them a more discerning viewer – or at least a more discriminating one in both senses of the word. Musicals have been dismissed throughout their history as creations by and for people on the margins of an imagined WASP heterosexual respectability – gay men in particular were negatively associated with musicals alongside women, Jews and African-Americans. Too broad, too emotional, too sentimental, too sexually ambiguous, too ethnic for the average man – and at the same time, anathema for rebellious artists and writers who perceive them as far too safe and commercial and mainstream in comparison to more socially acceptable radical art.



    And some of this has to do with the origins of the musical – a quilt-like amalgamation of popular entertainments that eschewed the high-brow art of opera, classical music and ballet for low-brow shows featuring vaudeville skits, jazz improvisation and street dancing that were so successful with the public that they pulled in millions of dollars and dominated popular entertainment on Broadway and in Hollywood for most of a century.



    And their commercial success with all levels of audiences from children to seniors, rich to poor, and across the spectrum of racial and religious groups meant that musicals became so closely aligned with popular music and dance that they shared the same level of cultural disdain that plagues most of the unique art forms of American popular culture in the 20th century – jazz, modern dance, comic books, popular song, musical theater (thinking about it, video games should definitely be added to this list, but it’s not mine so…) – most of which had to wait until the late 20th century before they were taken seriously by critics.



    And there was another level of suspicion - for the keepers of respectable Christian society, the content of early musicals steered dangerously close to racial, sexual, religious and class concerns that were better left unexamined. They scoffed at the unrealistic conventions that were only acceptable in opera where the music was paramount – placing melodies and dancing within more realistic storylines was ridiculous. People didn’t burst into song in real life – it made the men look “foolish and fey” and “fair faces singing wild slang” was a shocking combination for those who liked their women statuesque and silent. For most, musicals were an art form better left to children’s entertainments like The Wizard of Oz or animated films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.



    But despite social approbation, the money kept rolling in – and as Broadway and Hollywood continued to crank out musicals by the hundreds, their creators kept trying different ways to draw crowds into the theaters.




    When the average senior thinks of a musical – especially a movie musical – so many images immediately come to mind – lines of chorus girls kicking up their heels, men in top hats dancing with women in glamourous gowns, colorful characters in costumes moving down a path with a girl in pigtails, children singing in unison to please their governess or teacher, blonde movie goddesses on the prowl for a husband or a part in a Broadway show, merry townsfolk dancing to celebrate a wedding, stouthearted men ready to march to war, mobsters and dizzy dames who hatch plans while falling in and out of love – the innumerable memes of the musical that promise pleasure and escapism alongside questionable sentimentality and melodrama.




    But for a lot of younger people, movie and stage musicals can seem irredeemably trite and laughable. At their worst, musicals can seem eye-rollingly bad with their creaky librettos, nonsense lyrics, insipid music, tacky outfits and fantastical settings – hide-bound in their prejudices, reactionary in their politics, and viewed as little more than a momentary titillation for the proverbial tired old businessman who wanted to see gorgeous women in skimpy outfits.



    And the triumphant success of a mawkish film like The Sound of Music at a time when tremendous radical change was happening throughout the world only seemed to reinforce the belief among the that musicals had finally come to their natural end. In their inception, they were viewed as dangerous interlopers – now they were viewed by the rebellious baby boomer generation as everything seemingly wrong with American culture in the 1960s.



    And this poses an interesting question that haunts art in the 20th and 21st century – how to present reality in an age of mechanical reproduction – now that we have photographs and films, sound recordings and videos – when everyone can now take a selfie and post it to billions of potential viewers, how can we justify such a non-naturalistic art form as a musical?



    Creating a music video that has no linear through-line is still do-able, but how can we accept a reality where people burst into song and dance during a conventional narrative? Are musicals even relevant to storytelling anymore except as a satirical device that either mocks or proclaims their irrelevance?



    To seek an answer, we have to look far back into the past to the origins of drama itself. The religious authority who evokes the Gods, the bard who asks for inspiration to tell a tale, the artist who speaks to us through numerous ancient songs, chants, ballads, verses, folktales is engaging in an oral tradition that stretches back to prehistoric times – the passing down of knowledge using mnemonic techniques of rhythm and rhyme that preserved cultural memory. If one looks at a year as the full range of human experience, the written language was invented in December – for the rest of human history, almost all information passed down from culture to culture was oral.



    From the ancient Middle East and Greece to Asia and India, sacred and secular texts were conveyed through the oral tradition – Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism communicate their scriptures aurally – as did the Greeks and Romans in their religious rites. Zuni narratives, Siri poetry, Xhosa praises all rely upon the Oral Tradition as do the Torah, the Judeo-Christian Bible and extant Jewish and Christian literature. St. Paul speaks of "previously remembered tradition which he received" orally numerous times. Celtic bards kept tremendous amounts of cultural history alive through oral hand-me-downs.



    And in the arts, the ancient epics of Homer were a part of an oral tradition that stretched back almost a thousand years from the first surviving manuscript to the time of the Trojan War itself – not one author, but the culmination of a specific tradition using the repetitive and rhythmic tricks of epic poetry – in Greek and Roman texts, the dactylic hexameter of the Iliad and the Odyssey in Greek, the Aeneid and Metamorphosis in Latin and a great deal of rap music in English. Yes, dactylic hexameter is surprisingly used quite often in rap/hip hop – proof that the lyrical qualities of language and rhythm endure through the ages – the “flow” of the greatest epic in Western literature still echoed in the “flow” of today’s popular music.



    As for the origins of drama itself outside of religious ritual and epic poetry, Western culture still harkens back to the Greeks and their Theater of Dionysus with its twin faces of Tragedy and Comedy.



    The ancient Greeks believed that the truth of life was literally inherent in speech – Comedy’s Komos is explained by scholars as a wild, wine-fueled revel that took place at night. Tragedy’s Tragoidoi either referred to the tragic sacrifice of an animal (or human) at Dionysian festivals or the coming-of-age rituals of a young Greek male who made a pretense of sacrifice towards the Gods.



    These sacrificial rites developed over time into ritualistic song-and-dance which became so complex that an actor had to be added to the fun and games in order to understand what was going on. As the Dionysian Festivals grew in popularity, they were viewed as both religious and civic events – politicians and businessmen cutting deals as religious figures presided over the three day festival.



    And this was viewed by Nietzsche as a dramatization of the dissonance between the Apollonian (dramatic actor) and Dionysian (chorus) sides of the human condition. As the actor recited the drama, the chorus behind him would sing, dance and brandish weapons while wearing masks that reflected their contextual meaning – often reflecting the cultural beliefs of the audience, but sometimes the radical notions of the author.



    The chthonic nature of the Festival – based on the idea of sacrifice – reaches back to fertility rituals and mythologies of the underworld as personified by Demeter and her daughter Persephone who was kidnapped by Hades. The Greek word khthon literally means dust or earth – not the cover above, but a signifier for the actual interior of the underworld below.



    And Dionysus was the God who hovered between life and death – the androgynist youth who presided over the “cult of the souls” – his maenads feed the dead life through blood obtained by sacrifice – and he was one of the few Greek/Roman gods able to raise the dead to life. The supposed son of Zeus and either Semele or Persephone, the baby Dionysus was torn apart by jealous Hera’s minions – Zeus rescued him and sewed him up inside his knee – thus Dionysus was born, murdered and then born once again. Discovering grapes as a youth, Dionysus invented wine – and a jealous Hera this time afflicted him with madness – once cured, he became a trickster God who hoodwinked mortals and bewitched followers to abandon all reason. All of the worship that surrounded him was bound to his resurrection – as the supposed creator of Dionysian veneration, Orpheus was worshipped alongside the God of wine and imbibers could experience the same frenzy as their God in Bacchanalian orgies – the genesis of both Western Drama and mystery religions.



    After the rites were performed, the spectator was drunk and lawless – yet filled with an ecstatic urge for communion with his God and his community. The idea of the Polis (city) was founded upon this loyalty and allegiance to one’s city-state. Tragic works by Aeschylus and Sophocles and Euripides gave us choruses who used music, lyrics, and dance to convey the meaning and themes of the Tragedies – the song and dance a celebration of the Dionysian chaotic affirmation of life as opposed to the rhetoric of the Apollonian actor – master of restraint and reason who shows life as essentially tragic and always falling back into the chaos of chthonic sacrifice – the view of Socrates as he drank the hemlock.



    But there was an upside – the festival also included the comedy, which followed the precepts of tragedy with a difference – the chthonic death celebrated by the Festival of Tragedies always ended in a Comedy that celebrated the resurrection of Dionysus and a celebration of the erotic chaos of human fertility. Tragedies almost always ended with death – whereas Comedies almost always ended with a wedding or birth. Lawlessness meant freedom to create in this sense – the liberty given to celebrate Dionysus was connected with a happy ending in both sense of the phrase. The Iliad ends with Achilles giving Hector’s body to his father – The Odyssey gives us Odysseus talking softly with his wife in their bed before a final confrontation with the families of the suitors in which Athena appears and sets all to right.



    And in the plays of Aristophanes, the trickster God made his appearance as the singing and dancing chorus became parodic versions of their tragic counterparts – wasps, birds, frogs – mocking the aspirations of the protagonist and sending up cultural rules and authorities – in The Frogs, Dionysus himself journeys to the underworld to bring back the greatest tragedian of them all to save Athens from disastrous rule during the Peloponnesian Wars – both Aeschylus and the recently deceased Euripides vie for the post in a comic manner. Because the only way to save Athens from destruction – is to resurrect not only its greatest playwright, but the ancient beliefs of Athens itself. A balance of Apollonian and Dionysian that was sorely needed before Athens finally fell to Sparta in the same year as The Frogs, never to achieve such greatness again.



    This view of drama as a representation of life itself – both comic and tragic – as exemplified by a singing and dancing chorus continued through the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire until it was eradicated by a Western Christendom more intent on morality plays of biblical good and evil than any individual or communal festival. Sporadic celebrations broke out and were either quickly squashed as pagan excess or assimilated into the calendar of Saint Days and Christian festivities.



    It wasn’t until the Italian Renaissance that Greek Drama made an appearance again – the rediscovery of classical texts and the increasing mania for all things Greek and Roman led to the Florentine Camerata writing the first musicals based on Aristotle’s description of a Greek Chorus – a few small musical moments placed between hectoring hagiographies of saints on pageant wagons. Their wild popularity led to copycats throughout Italy – which led to more musical plays in Spain and England, including the development of commedia dell'arte and the introduction of the masque under Shakespeare and Ben Jonson.



    Which brings up the question of why the musical drama is so eternally popular - the psychological meaning of musical drama was posited by Aristotle as a “cathartic” psychological healing of both the individual and society. The process of projective identification whereby a viewer is able to access the feelings of a character is balanced against the dramatic distancing that music and lyrics create through their very unnatural application in the drama.



    Unlike a straight play, an audience is able to both escape into the emotional dynamics of the situation and pull themselves back through use of music and lyric to analyze it from a distance as metaphor or universal myth. This can lead to intense emotional reactions – a heightening of the drama or comedy – that cannot be achieved through non-musical means. Hence the cliché of cold-blooded killers weeping at operas or otherwise stoic people impelled to rise to their feet in joy at the performance of a particularly well-done song and dance.



    And from a neurological point of view, musical stimulation causes specific cells in the right hemisphere to respond much more to melody than to language. People who listen to music immediately respond better to spatial-temporal tests. Even animals respond to music – the neurons in the brain prioritizing rhythmic sounds. There is an evolutionary function as well – storytelling is a needed element of play that trains the mind to create bonds with others and avoid dangers. Music heightens storytelling and enhances play – which creates communal bonds of religion and cultural belief.



    And alongside this came the idea of life as a play – the renewed popularity of the comical verse epic Satyricon by Petronius made the phrase Totus mundus agit histrionem – “the whole world plays the actor” – became a popular phrase of the Renaissance, leading the philosopher Erasmus to state "For what else is the life of man but a kind of play in which men in various costumes perform until the director motions them off the stage."

    And this in turn led to the magnificent passage in Shakespeare’s As You Like It in which the melancholy Jaques, tired of life, recites the seven ages of man:



    All the world's a stage
    And all the men and women merely players
    They have their exits and their entrances
    And one man in his time plays many parts


    In one of Shakespeare’s last plays, The Tempest, Prospero reveals an entire stage of singing and dancing performers who dazzle his audience – until he wipes them all away with a wave of his hand:



    You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
    As if you were dismay'd: be cheerful, sir.
    Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
    As I foretold you, were all spirits and
    Are melted into air, into thin air:
    And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
    The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
    The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
    Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
    And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
    Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
    As dreams are made on, and our little life
    Is rounded with a sleep.




    And as the musical theater grew from masques and pantomime ballads to modern theatre, so did the idea of Life as Show Biz – or life as a performance. To sing and dance was to embrace life – and to teach others to do so was an attempt to change an Apollonian black-and-white view of life to a Dionysian experience of pure ecstasy. In Technicolor. And Stereophonic Sound.



    The Sound of Music as a movie musical was extensively rewritten by screenwriter Ernst Lehman – who knew that the combination of singing nun and kids couldn’t be beat. And it actually is a very well-made film with some terrific numbers that have rightfully become classics in popular culture with young children. And Julie Andrews gives a charming performance with just the right amount of sugar to complement Christopher Plummer's amusingly sour Captain who defies the Nazis.



    But it came out at a culturally explosive time when the movies – and the world – was changing. A year after The Sound of Music, Antonioni’s Blow-Up premiered without MPAA Production Code approval – an auspicious portent of what was to come – and the auteur theories of Truffaut, Godard and the French New Wave were spreading across Europe and Asia, hailing Italian Neo-Realists like Fellini, Iconoclasts like Ingmar Bergman, Satyajit Ray and Akira Kurosawa – and a growing number of like cinematic geniuses who challenged Hollywood for awards and worldwide acclaim.



    But just as European and Asian cinema entered their golden eras, Hollywood was obsessed with one thing – box office. And The Sound of Music was viewed as a foolproof way to make lots of money – big moneymaking musicals won Oscars, didn’t they?

    And so a slew of musicals made their way down the pipe, regardless of quality or suitability of the performers involved – Barbra Streisand playing a middle-aged dowager at twenty-seven in Hello, Dolly!, Peter O’Toole singing and dancing badly in Goodbye Mr. Chips, a sixty-three year old Lucille Ball with enough gauze covering the lens to circle the globe in Mame, Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave whispering through Camelot, Clint Eastwood warbling “I Talk to the Trees” in Paint Your Wagon and Bergman’s ethereal muse Liv Ullmann croaking her way through a risible musical version of Lost Horizon – inspiring jokes like “I never miss a Liv Ullmann musical!”



    The absolute nadir of the entire BIG HOLLYWOOD MUSICAL was Doctor Doolittle, starring Rex Harrison, who had snagged an Oscar for playing Henry Higgins in the film version of My Fair Lady.



    Finding himself riding on the back of a gigantic snail in a year when Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate and In The Heat of the Night were competing for best pictures must have been humiliating for Harrison, who had previously been one of Hollywood’s biggest box office stars.



    In order to attract even bigger crowds (and make even more money), studios promoted these musicals as road show theatrical releases in 70mm and six track stereophonic sound. But at a time of great social ferment, Hollywood and Broadway musicals seemed shallow and bloated – representative of everything that was wrong with popular culture.



    The counter-culture of the 1960s had taken hold – old fashioned ideals were breaking down in the face of racial and sexual discrimination, endless cold wars that led to invasions and air strikes in Vietnam and Cambodia and stifling prohibitions in appearance and lifestyle. The baby boomer generation rebelled against the traditional roles prescribed for them and long-held values which seemed to have little resonance for the times. The assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Civil Rights Movement, the birth control pill and the advent of sexual freedom, the rise of hippie communities and the Free Speech Movement in San Francisco, Woodstock and the Stonewall riots in New York – graphic footage appeared on televisions across America, bringing new images of a reality that Hollywood rarely showed in movie theaters. And alongside this, an alternative popular music was coming into its own in the early 1960s – Bob Dylan made an impact with his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in 1963.



    And this foray into folk song and early rock n roll was echoed by the rise of Motown and the first hits by The Beatles, who horrified blue hairs everywhere with their long hair and their insouciant attitude. FM radio overtook AM as the predominant audio experience with experimental rock and soul music taking the place of old-fashioned popular songs and eight track tapes (and later, cassette tapes) lending a sense of freedom to music enjoyment – vinyl was in one’s home – but tapes could be carried anywhere from the car to a commune of like-minded people.



    The integrated musical continued to decline and splinter as counter-culture art took over – the chaotic lunacy and brilliance of movie musicals like A Hard Day’s Night and Broadway rock musicals such as Hair became the new normal with their non-linear vaudeville sketches in place of narrative and a dizzying attitude of “Do Your Own Thing” that made traditional Broadway musicals seem obsolete.



    The opposite was true on Broadway, where younger composers such as Stephen Sondheim and Stephen Schwartz worked with powerhouse director/choreographers such as Bob Fosse, Harold Prince, Michael Bennett to create the “concept” musical – an idea that took off from the “concept” album of various songwriters. More interested in a thematic overview or idea rather than a narrative, concept shows moved past the idea of a Rodgers and Hammerstein integrated show to showcase modern concerns through Brechtian distancing, self-mockery and thematic through-lines rather than linear narratives. Ironically, Rodgers and Hammerstein themselves were the predecessors of this style – their 1947 show Allegro was the original concept musical, danced through, staged without a set and abstract enough to have a Greek Chorus follow the main character’s life.



    Sondheim himself pointed to Allegro as the show behind his shows – one in which he had been a behind-the-scenes participant as a go-fer thanks to Hammerstein.



    Theatrical, non-naturalistic and cynical, shows of the late 1960s and 1970s like Godspell, Cabaret, Pippin, Company, Follies, Chicago, A Chorus Line, Sweeney Todd and Evita both paid homage and undermined the integrated musical – and proved that any subject matter could be musicalized – sexual swingers, Weimar Germany cabaret stars, warriors and lovers of Charlemagne’s reign, Argentinian dictators, English demon barbers and even American Presidential Assassins were all grist for the concept musical mill.



    But as musicals veered towards the radical theater experimentation of Harold Pinter, Edward Albee and Peter Weiss, they grew even more distant from popular culture – only with the rise of the mega-musical (a cross between the vaudeville spectacle of early Broadway with the concept musical) in shows like A Chorus Line (Michael Bennett) and Evita (Harold Prince) did popular taste turn back to musicals. The gigantic mirror image of the concept musical, the mega-musical was widely perceived as a move towards the non-linear “concept” album in which a sung-through musical was first written as an album in a rock/pop format – taking off from concept albums like The Beatles’ St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Who’s Tommy, the British team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice released sung-through musical albums of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita that became best-sellers before their eventual staging in the West End and Broadway.



    The idea of a sung-through musical (or rock opera) was pushed even farther in the abstract Cats and Starlight Express, where visual spectacle and costumes became the content. As Broadway split into two halves – intellectual concept musicals in which experimenters like Sondheim worked on a wide range of unusual subjects like Sweeney Todd and Pacific Overtures – and giant epic shows replete with special effects like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera and Sunset Boulevard and the French songwriting team of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s Les Misérables and Miss Saigon – critics took sides as to whether the American Musical had been bested by the European pop operas in the public mind.



    As for Hollywood musicals, except for a few bright spots like the Broadway to Hollywood films Cabaret and Fiddler on the Roof, movie musicals as an art form entered a stark decline. Responding to the disco craze, studios rushed out stultifying monstrosities such as Can’t Stop the Music starring the Village People and Xanadu starring Olivia Newton-John and a very confused Gene Kelly who seemed to have wandered in from a different set. Only the energy of a young John Travolta kept the popular Saturday Night Fever and Grease (itself a self-mocking Broadway throwback to the 50s) from similar derision.




    At the same time, the rise of cable television and corporate pop inspired the marketing genius of the music video – taking a cue from early Bob Dylan and Beatles shorts, recording companies began filming small sketches akin to vaudeville and concert acts to promote the songs – and with the advent of video recording, hundreds of music videos could be made cheaply and quickly. Narrative arcs and thematic structure developed until they became full-fledged tiny musicals pushing political and social themes along with a huge dollop of jump-cut editing and sex.



    Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach were mini-musicals in themselves in matching image to lyric – and those who wouldn’t be caught dead at a musical were all too happy to sit in front of a television watching a 24-hour loop of music videos.



    The turning point in the movie musical’s decline came with two off-Broadway writers who had a major success with a musicalization of the cult film Little Shop of Horrors. Alan Mencken was a graduate of the BMI workshop – a musical theater writing program set up by the conductor/composer Lehman Engel in 1961 that taught the “rules” of writing musicals. Howard Ashman was a playwright who teamed up with Mencken and other composers for a series of musicals that were moderate successes – but things changed when he was hired to write lyrics for a new musical, Oliver & Co. and was told of a new project, The Little Mermaid, under Jeffrey Katzenberg.



    One of the driving forces behind the Disney Renaissance in animation, Ashman and Mencken applied playwriting and BMI principles to The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, introducing the precepts of the well-crafted (mostly Broadway) musical to millions of children and adults worldwide. Dozens of imitators attempted to adopt their signature style – to the detriment of many an animated feature when the creators were unable to duplicate their magic.



    And with the advent of the internet, the idea of the musical began to change yet again as the children who watched the Disney musicals of the late 80s and early 90s began to experiment themselves on video – taping their own mini-musicals and emulating their favorite characters in cosplay – and dissemination of musicals on a scale never seen before. The power of major record companies and movie studios to filter musical tastes was broken – the internet became a wild west of music in which every flavor was available, 24 hours a day. The belief that music defined one’s political self – the mantra of classic rock and rap – was no longer applicable in this world. What seemed absurd on a big screen fit naturally on a small YouTube video – and the ability to personalize musicals and perform them oneself only spread their popularity.



    An aspiring rapper, Jay Z, watched the commercials for the 20th anniversary of Annie in 1997 and decided to sample from a Broadway musical – “Hard Knock Life” – and ended up writing a smash hit, selling 5.4 million copies of his album.



    Other Broadway songs like “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof and “Anything” from Oliver in 1999 were also sampled to huge success. So things were ripe again for a resurgence in the genre – several television shows had very special musical episodes which the characters who generally never sang a note in their lives were forced to sing and dance in dramatic and comic situations: Chicago Hope’s “Brain Salad Surgery,” in 1997, Xena: Princess Warrior’s “The Bitter Suite” in 1998 and Ally McBeal’s “The Musical, Almost” in 2000 – all paving the way for the most famous musical episode of them all – Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s "Once More With Feeling" in 2001 – which takes us full circle from a spinning Maria Von Trapp celebrating living through music to a spinning Buffy Summers seeking her demise through song.




    End of Part One

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    Wow! American Aurora, posting a shorty here to give you the break you need so the forum lets you post your next installment, but I also wanted to say thank you for a really knowledgeable, broad and entertaining history of the genre of the musical. I must confess myself to have always been a little bit of a musical snob having grown up with the disco musicals of the 80s, but this may actually make me go back to the genre with more open eyes.

    For me this is the rewatch at its best, when it makes you re-examine what you thought you knew and when it makes you think and see layers of meaning that were not apparent before.
    Smile, listen, agree - and then do whatever the f**k you wanted to do anyway... (Robert Downey jr.)

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    Once More With Feeling, Part Two: Opening Credits: The Roots of the Broadway Musical



    JOSIE: What is Broadway?
    JONES: Broadway?
    JOSIE: A Street?
    JONES: Sure, it’s the greatest street in the world.
    JOSIE: Some people say it’s terrible.
    JONES: Philadelphia people.
    JOSIE: And some people say it’s wonderful
    JONES: That’s just it. It’s terribly wonderful.
    JOSIE: I don’t understand.
    JONES: Nobody understands Broadway. People hate it and don’t know why. People love it and don’t know why. It’s just because it’s Broadway.
    JOSIE: That’s a mystery, isn’t it?
    JONES: That’s just what it is, a mystery. (George M. Cohan, Broadway Jones, 1914)


    Adam Guettel, the Tony-award winning composer of the Broadway show A Light in the Piazza knew that there is nothing quite as difficult for an aspiring writer – as to be that aspiring writer born into a famous and successful show biz family:



    “I wish I could just have fun and relax and not have the responsibility of that potential to be some kind of great man! In my family, to be good is to fail. To be very good is to fail. To only do three really good things is to fail. The only thing not a failure is to be great. And that'' -- he shuts his eyes -- ''is tiring.'”



    And Guettel had quite a mountain to climb in terms of greatness – his grandfather was Richard Rodgers, composer of The Sound of Music and other groundbreaking Broadway shows – his mother was Rodgers’ daughter Mary Rodgers, composer of the Broadway hit Once Upon a Mattress and author of the ever-popular book Freaky Friday.

    Guettel: "I knew it would just be a terrible idea to try to make a career in musical theatre. But the excitement of realizing I had the ability to tell stories through music became impossible to resist. I only ever had one dream about my grandfather. I was pursuing him across a lobby in New York as he was about to get into an elevator. I wanted to ask him if he thought I was any good. He looked at me and said, 'You have your own voice.' Then the doors closed and he was gone."



    And Guettel wasn’t the only writer who tried to break free of the shadow of their artistic family tree – Joseph Hill Whedon – or “Joss” as he called himself in college – was the son of Thomas Avery Whedon, television writer of Captain Kangaroo, The Electric Company, The Golden Girls and several successful off-Broadway musicals.



    And his grandfather cast an even longer shadow – John Ogden Whedon was President of the Harvard Lampoon in the 1920s and editor for Harper’s and Collier’s Weekly before becoming managing editor of the newly-published The New Yorker in the midst of the Great Depression. During that time, Whedon wrote a Broadway play called Life’s Too Short about a corporation that is cutting salaries and reducing its staff – in a strange turn of events, a fired employee finds that his wife has been sleeping with the manager and manages to get his job back. The play was viewed as far too depressing and cynical for critics in 1935 – the NY Times wrote, “If it were content to be an old-fashioned melodrama decorated with smart rejoinders and promiscuous gags, it might be less bewildering to watch in the theatre.” Still, “There are enough excellent wisecracks tossed in here and there to relieve the general gloom.”



    John married Louise Carroll Angell, who had directed plays in college and was editor-in-chief of Miscellany News at Vassar. He moved from publishing to NBC and a staff position as writer for the popular radio situation comedy, The Great Gildersleeve, a spin-off from Fibber McGee and Molly starring Harold Peary as Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve. The New York Times said of Whedon’s work on Gildersleeve: “In the bumptious, awkward and warm-hearted character of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, the authors, John Whedon and Sam Moore, have fashioned a character of both vitality and credibility…the Messrs. Whedon and Moore fortunately conduct him along the path of double trial with a regard for plausibility that never lets the play get too far out of hand.”



    A national sensation on radio, people loved the pompous blowhard Gildersleeve who had a soft spot in raising his niece and nephew – in 1945, the show reached such heights of popularity that three albums were released featuring “Gildersleeve” reading stories for children. Puss in Boots, Rumpelstiltskin, Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and Cinderella were underscored by Robert Emmett Dolan and written by the show’s writers, Sam Moore and John Whedon.



    Dolan had been a prolific musical director and composer of Ginger Rogers and Betty Hutton movies for MGM and had just finished working on multiple Bing Crosby musicals for Paramount. After a successful recording with Moore and Whedon, the three began to write the book and music for the Broadway musical Texas, Li’l Darlin’ with lyrics by the famed composer/lyricist Johnny Mercer.



    Mercer was already the most successful of the team, one of the great American songbook writers and his output included "Hooray for Hollywood," "Too Marvelous for Words, "Jeepers Creepers," "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby," "Blues in the Night," "This Time the Dream’s On Me," "Travelin’ Light," "One For My Baby," "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive," "Laura," "Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home," "That Old Black Magic," "Come Rain or Come Shine" – quite an achievement plus an Academy Award for Best Song "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe." Mercer would go on to win three more for "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening," "Moon River" and "Days of Wine and Roses."




    Texas, Li’l Darlin’ was a typical musical comedy of its time with roots that extended far into the family tree of musical theater itself. A satire, a vaudeville, a romantic comedy and a raucous burlesque, Texas, Lil’ Darlin’ was in many ways an amalgamation of so many differing art forms that had come before it that it felt more like a hodgepodge than a cohesive story line. The setup pitted a Gildersleeve-like blustering con man named Hominy Smith who runs for Senator in Texas against a young, handsome war vet named Easy Jones who always wears his air force jacket to remind the audience he is part of the postwar “GI Revolt”! The actor playing Hominy was Kenny Delmar, a veteran of vaudeville and radio, who created Senator Beauregard Claghorn on the Fred Allen Show – later imitated by Mel Blanc for the rooster Foghorn Leghorn.



    The opening song plays upon the ways of Southern politics, with Smith praising the Lone Star state:

    SMITH:
    I gaze across the prairie from under my sombrery
    And I’m in love with everything I see
    Texas, Li’l Darlin’, I know y’ boundaries by heart.
    Like Messrs. Rand McNally I know every hill and valley,
    That is to say I know the ones they’ve had the time to chart.


    And not only does he claim to love the people of the state, he loves their votes so much that he’s willing to steal them. This doggerel is actually awfully close to the real campaign rallies of Governor Gene Talmadge in Georgia in 1948 – sans the racism – that Mercer heard in his home town of Savannah. And the people of the state react positively – they like hearing that Smith is the “champion of the downtrodden, both rich and poor alike” as he bilks them and lies to their face. Of course, in true melodramatic colors, Easy the Veteran in his GI Jacket is hopelessly in love with Smith’s daughter, Dallas.




    Complications ensue when the rival sister of his beloved vamps for attention. This all attracts the attention of a famous corrupt publisher from Trend magazine, Harvey Small, (spoofing Henry Luce, the Publisher of Life Magazine) who focuses on the whole city-versus-country dynamic in order to groom Smith for President – an alliance between media and politician that still holds true for American elections today in "Politics":

    HARVEY:
    If you can please the big employers and the workers’ lawyers,
    Keep em’ busy fightin’ while the fish are bitin’
    Don’t improve conditions, ‘cept for politicians,
    Then demand a little fee? Why, you’re in Politics!




    The songs ranged from comedic to romantic to downright strange with the big audience pleaser, “The Big Movie Show in the Sky”, in which candidate Easy the Vet echoes Shakespeare in telling a breathless crowd at a barbeque that all the world’s a movie theater and every dead soul will be forced to watch a movie of their life to be judged for their sins.

    EASY: Can you look yourself in the eye
    When you come on the screen up yonder,
    At the Big Movie Show in the Sky?
    Be sure you do some actin’ of which later you’ll be proud
    Cause that’s one movin’ picture show where retakes ain’t allowed!




    “Hemispheric popcorn has got to be the top corn!” is just one of the bizarre lyrics sung at this Holy Roller Barbeque – one assumes that it was meant to be satirical, but the rest of the material is so mild that it’s hard to discern exactly what is being parodied here. Another number performed by the secretaries of the publishing house details exactly what is expected of them – and it ain’t just typing!

    GIRLS:
    Oh, he makes you feel as cozy as he can,
    ‘Never mind the chair, just sit on that divan,’
    A ‘Please take a letter – no, take off that sweater,
    Now isn’t that better?’ type man!”




    Unfortunately, Texas, Li’l Darlin’ wasn’t quite the success the authors hoped for – it opened on November 25, 1949 and closed on September 9, 1950 after 293 performances. An attempt by Mercer and Dolan to revive the show in 1972, updating the character of Henry Luce to Hugh Hefner and starring Bing Crosby was halted by John Whedon himself, who claimed the show was too dated to be revived.



    The reasons for the failure of Texas, Li’l Darlin’ were many – the score was only moderately tuneful, the lyrics and book were too mild an attack on political corruption, the show lacked big stars – and most importantly, it had nothing to say. It was a decent effort, but it premiered at a time when musical theater had moved on from its origins and blossomed into something quite different through the efforts of two men who cast their own enormous shadow over Broadway.



    It wasn’t an accident that the title of the show parodied a much more famous title of a classic show – and the cast and crew included several actors from that show, including the director, Paul Crabtree. And the association of the audience with an actress who played Laurie and a director who was the original understudy for Will Parker in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s smash hit Oklahoma! in 1943 might have almost been enough to keep audiences coming in the door if only the show had said something other than “Have a great time!”



    In fact, Texas, Li’l Darlin’ was shopped to the powerhouse Rodgers and Hammerstein production house that was set up after the success of Oklahoma! to produce other shows than their own – like the outstanding Annie Get Your Gun with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin – but Hell Bent for Election (the original title of Texas, Li’l Darlin’) was known then) was ultimately rejected. And against the powerhouse South Pacific by Rodgers and Hammerstein and Kiss Me Kate by Cole Porter – both newcomers on Broadway in the same year, Texas, Li’l Darlin’ didn’t even have a chance in the running.




    John Whedon had other problems – HUAC had implicated him because another writer on Gildersleeve was accused of communist sympathies. Whedon escaped to Los Angeles, where he displayed his talents writing for Kraft Television Theatre (garnering an Emmy nomination), Leave it to Beaver, The Donna Reed Show, the Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

    Years later, in 1965, the tremendous box-office triumph of The Sound of Music forever solidified the reputation of the most successful and popular musical team of the 20th century – but the lengthy careers of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist/librettist Oscar Hammerstein II literally stretched back to the beginnings of modern musical theater and the American popular songbook.



    At first glance, they look like any average middle-aged businessmen from the 1950s – dull, middle-of-the-road, and conventional – but if one looks closely, one can see in their background the essential emotional makeup that compels people to write musicals over all other art forms – a childhood plagued by fear and anxiety.

    Oscar Hammerstein II was born in 1895 – and like Joss Whedon, he was the heir to a great theatrical family – his grandfather Oscar Hammerstein I was a Jewish cigar maker who fled poverty and paternal beatings in Prussia (now modern Poland) only to became a scion of New York theatrical society, opening several major theaters in New York and London – and the honor of being the man responsible for establishing Times Square as the heart of New York City.



    But as a sixteen year old immigrant who dragged himself from a small rowboat to stand on the shore of Manhattan in January of 1864, Oscar the First possessed nothing but a love for opera carried over from his mother and professional training at the Music Conservatory of Berlin. Hammerstein was fortunate to find that most able-bodied men had gone off to war and began work immediately as a cigar-maker for two dollars a week. But Opera was still his first love – the predominant form of music drama in Europe in the mid-1800s – so young Hammerstein the First must have been astonished at the variety of diverse entertainments he found in America.



    Of course, there was still opera – that had been in America long before the Revolutionary War, since the ballad opera Flora premiered in 1735. Touring theatrical companies emulated their British counterparts and travelled the country, performing puppet shows, Shakespeare and operas, both grand and ballad. The origin of opera in the Renaissance when the rediscovery of Greek Drama and Aristotle’s Poetics led to the invention of recitative – sung dialogue that connected song to song without break – and included dance, madrigals, religious chants and a variety of popular arts that were wedded to a loose text. The desire to achieve a Dionysian catharsis through music drama was the aspiration of all early opera and as the art form spread throughout Europe with the rising fame of Monteverdi’s Orfeo in 1607 – Orpheus descending to the underworld to retrieve his dead love became the touchstone of most early opera – so did the desire of less aspirational artists to profit from their popularity.



    A carnivalesque spirit surrounded the early operas of Italy and England after a long spell of banned musical plays. Vocal virtuosity competed with satires that mocked the great and powerful – women were still banned from the theater, so castrati took female roles (and later countertenors) in operas – especially by the German composer Handel in England. As a reaction to these excesses, John Gay in 1728 wrote a satirical “Ballad Opera” that mocked the prices and the pretension of opera at the request of his friend Jonathan Swift. The Beggar’s Opera was a Hogarthian comic story of Macheath the highway man and his escapades with pimps and whores and corrupt officials – the original Mack the Knife – with a mixture of dialogue and new lyrics set to popular tunes of the time that made it the most popular theatrical music drama of the 18th century.



    As opera itself became much more refined, another play about Orpheus – Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice in 1762 – became a sensation, attracting the aristocracy and the monarchies across Europe with its beauty and its introduction of sexy women in beautiful outfits, putting the female impersonators out of work. Once opera became the art beloved by Kings, so did the narrowing of all subject matter that might be offensive to the monarchy.



    And the gulf between popular entertainment and high-brow entertainment widened – audiences clamored for musical theater that was a little less refined – and so the comic opera developed in England, the operetta in Germany, the opera bouffe in France. Burlettas (parodies), English pantomimes (ballets), pantos and masques were also popular entertainments in early America up to the War of 1812 when Americans decided to turn their backs on their European heritage and look for material closer to home. This led to the emergence of minstrelsy, burlesque, vaudeville, extravaganza and spectacle as uniquely American art forms – a heritage both infamous and shameful – and one often overlooked and omitted when telling the history of American Pop Culture.



    Minstrelsy was a degraded, racist version of African-American song and dance that developed during slavery during the inhuman enforced labor they had to endure. Clapping in the fields, creating rhymes to enliven repetitive motion, communicating with others through song, maintaining a link to African musical and religious traditions, it is astonishing that the most popular genres of music in the history of the world in modern times were developed in the killing fields of Southern Slavery in the United States. But as former slaves told in interviews, music allowed the imagined free part of the slave to sing. That time within real time gave hope of release from drudgery and kept sanity alive. Slaves were nothing more than property – but in music, they could find themselves again as individuals and a community, improvising words and music in competitive self-created arenas that gave them strength.



    White slavers and owners recognized this music as something different – and lucrative – immediately. “Travelling through the South, you may, in passing from Virginia to Louisiana, hear the same tune a hundred times, but seldom the same words. This necessarily results from the habit of extemporizing, in which the performers indulge on festive occasions.” Slaves could sing the same song again and again, changing and revising it as mood allowed – the more creativity, the more one could survive – and individual improvisation took precedence over tradition. White musical tradition played one rhythm at a time with rigid rules for dance – black musical culture was a circle where anyone could step inside and become an individual out of necessity.



    Whites could only see black music from their own preconceptions, believing that there was a distinct “Negro music” – and not did they want to pay to see it, but they wanted to adopt it as well. They allowed their slaves to journey to places like New Orleans and sing and dance for money – a few black performers who made it to the North became a sensation in New York’s new immigrant stages in the 1830s. White performers began to imitate them while blacking up their faces – “playing the Negro.” – adopting and displacing African-American culture at the same time.



    One such New York actor, Thomas Dartmouth Rice, adopted a black identity that not only had audiences filling theaters for the next twenty years, but influenced countless minstrel shows across the country – Jim Crow. As the character developed, he was adopted by the South and imbued during and after the Civil War with derogatory racist language and attitudes that showed his supposed inferiority to white people.



    The horrific segregation laws of the South are named after this elusive caricature – as is the famous dance – to “Jump Jim Crow” – and when one looks at almost all of American popular culture, it becomes increasingly obvious that the idea of blackness was not as crucial to white American society in the 19th century as the idea of preserving “whiteness” – which cultures identified and which were accepted by an imagined community based on racial difference.



    As the minstrel show grew during the Civil War and Reconstruction, it became the predominant form of musical theater in American by the 1880s. The songs and dances reflected an idyllic view of plantation life that never existed with slaves singing happily and mournfully for an agreeable Southern Dixieland that never was – Dan Emmett and the Virginia minstrels were a touring group of four performers who were then followed by the Christy Minstrels, an extravaganza that commissioned new songs and instituted the three act minstrel show upon which most vaudeville, burlesque and revue was based. The First Act presented varied entertainments as two end-men, Mr. Tambo and Mr. Bones told jokes and played instruments made of horse jawbones and ended the act with a song by the entire company. The Second Act was a fantasia in which plays and other short musical pieces were performed – often lewd acts by female impersonators who would shed their clothes daringly in a large spectacle. The Third Act ended with a burlesque of some famous play or opera, making political commentary and mocking famous figures of the day. The songs were the most popular part of minstrelsy – Dan Emmett’s imitations (or some say thefts) of slave songs: “Jimmy Crack Corn,” “Polly Wolly Doodle” and “Dixie” were huge hits.



    But Stephen Foster was the first American songwriter who became internationally famous, writing standards such as “My Old Kentucky Home”, “Old Folks at Home (Swanee River),” “I Dream of Jeannie,” “O Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” and two hundred other popular songs. The introduction of new dance language copied from African-American plantation contests in which couples danced and were eliminated until only one couple remained to win the prize – a cake. This originated the phrase “to take the cake” and also the new dances – the “cakewalk” and the “walkaround” – which started a trend that outraged older generations as youth embraced the new music.



    As the minstrel shows became more popular, the performers on the stage grew to over a hundred artists as audiences flocked to hear REAL African-Americans like James A. Bland who blackened their own faces like white performers and adopted the minstrel caricatures. Bland was the wealthy son of a free man and one of the first black men to receive a college education – and yet he found wealth and fame in minstrelsy. His songs “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” and “In the Evening by the Moonlight” were bizarre constructions considering he was a Northerner through and through.

    And then there was the racist “coon” song developed in minstrelsy that became the rage until everyone from John Phillip Sousa to Scott Joplin wrote one – a number that combined the loud belting full-throated sound and syncopated rhythm and ragtime music – a kind of song still associated with Broadway today and the precursor for the famous street near Broadway that started to produce sheet music by the thousands and where so many musical theater writers like Irving Berlin and George Gershwin got their start – Tin Pan Alley.



    Oscar Hammerstein I must have been utterly puzzled by the numerous minstrel shows in old New York – and their descendants, the vaudeville and the revue and the burlesque. His heart was in opera even as he kept inventing new ways to roll cigars. But every penny Hammerstein I had was invested in music theater – in just five years, he had shares in three theaters and decided to build his own in Harlem. The Harlem Opera House – now the Apollo Theater – and a sister theater nearby were his first big successes. This led to spying out even more suitable locations south of Harlem where Macy’s now stands in Herald Square and one space near Broadway and 42nd Street. Operas and the new musical sister drama – operettas – played in Hammerstein’s giant theatre palaces in Long Acre Square as it was known then. Hammerstein’s success lured other theater owners like the Shuberts to build their own theaters there. As it became a center of entertainment for New York, the New York Times decided to build a famous tower to house the paper - and the area was redubbed Times Square.



    There were no worries that paying customers would start to dwindle – on the contrary, the audience for opera and musical drama continued to grow. Between 1880 and 1919, 5.5 million immigrants came to New York City, each finding a home in their specific ethnic enclave where they could sit with a drink and a companion and watch actors from the homeland act out the tensions they faced in their new strange country.



    By the end of the Gilded Age, minstrelsy had lost its popularity as massive immigration threatened the idea of essential American “whiteness” – a breaking up of identity that ended breaking up the three acts of minstrelsy into separate entertainments that appeals to various segments of society – Act One with its specialized acts became vaudeville:



    Act Two with its emphasis on sex and spectacle became the revue – under impresarios like Ziegfeld, they showcased the Glorification of the American Girl:



    Act Three’s burlesque routine became – well, burlesque. With lots of porn that out-Ziegfelded Ziegfeld:



    Vaudeville was designed for every kind of audience with almost every kind of act on the bill – Irish acts like George M. Cohan and Harrigan and Hart; Dutch acts like Weber and Fields; Jewish acts like Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor; African American acts like Bert Williams and Bill Robinson; Italian acts like Jimmy Durante and Lou Costello; Asian acts like Anna May Wong and English acts like Charlie Chaplin – it was a melting pot that reflected the shifting culture of America at the turn of the century.



    Oscar Hammerstein II may have had an operatic impresario for a grandfather, but it was his father Willie who was more influential in his musical tastes. A theatrical vaudeville manager known as the “Barnum of Broadway,” Willie Hammerstein ran his father’s Victoria Theater on Broadway, headlining new sensations such as Irving Berlin, Buster Keaton, Will Rogers, Mae West and several shocking acts like Evelyn Nesbit - her lover, the famous architect Stanford White, who was shot to death by her millionaire husband – creating a reality sensation akin to the celebrity tabloid scandals of today.



    So Hammerstein was born into a family of both high-brow and low-brow theatrical aspirations. Ironically, Hammerstein’s father forbade his star-struck son to become a theatre artist himself, threatening disinheritance if he was disobeyed. Hammerstein’s mother was a long-suffering wife who suffered through threatening pregnancies and campaigned for birth control – she died at thirty-five of a botched abortion – and Hammerstein’s father died soon after. Her death haunted Hammerstein for the rest of his life and informed his left-wing political beliefs.



    Now on his own, Hammerstein began to write musicals as a student at Columbia University in defiance of his father’s wishes. Rebelling against his father’s cheap theatrical tricks, Hammerstein worked towards a new conception of the “musical play” that would mix music, lyrics and book into an integrated dramatic narrative. And if one was looking for a type of musical that would lend itself to musical integration, then it would be the operetta which brought a European sophistication to the musical – extravagant in nature (the largest would actually be called extravaganzas and spectacles), they concentrated on the fantastical, the colorful and the erotic.




    A descendant of comic opera, shows such as The Wizard of Oz (1902) and Babes in Toyland (1903) mixed spectacle with pantomime, creating astonishing stage effects and a cast of hundreds. The musical movie The Wizard of Oz paid tribute to Baum’s original show (the author wrote book and lyrics with composer Paul Tietjens) by mimicking the costumes and settings of the 1902 show – the show was so popular in tours around the country that they felt audiences would still have a substantial attachment to it. Babes in Toyland was even more surreal – like Dorothy, two orphans feel a villain only to find themselves in a living, breathing version of their favorite nursery rhymes and fairy tales. And like Dorothy, the characters they encounter in their fantasy adventure relate to those they knew in the real world and created psychological dilemmas that the characters needed to confront before they could return home.




    So Hammerstein signed on to writing operettas – and became very successful. Still, he was frustrated. Operettas had a cohesive book - but as lovely as the music was by such stalwarts as Sigmund Romberg (The Student Prince) and Rudolf Friml (The Vagabond King), they eschewed New World jazz in favor of European Old World music - and the scripts weren’t very modern either, rejecting big city life in New York (the hallmark of the musical comedy) for Kingdoms and Castles in the air and lost Princes and Princesses and Romantic Poets in settings safely remaining in the historical past.



    But the alternative was even worse. With a few exceptions, the most popular musical comedies of the 20s and 30s were little more than vaudeville and revue sketches with songs thrown in – but what songs! Magnificent songs that created the great American Songbook - written by George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Vincent Youmans, Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, Jerome Kern, Frank Loesser, Dietz and Schwartz, Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, Dorothy Fields and Johnny Mercer. But little attempt was made to create anything more than a fun night in the theater – Hammerstein was actively embarrassed by the shoddy librettos and baggy-pants comics that dominated the musical comedy of the 1920s.

    Almost all played to formula staring with an “icebreaker” – the first act opening song with lots of action and meaningless lyrics for latecomers to sit down. Then the shows went through their formulaic paces - a weak plot designed only to show off a charming duet, a big dance piece, a romantic ballad, a “shout” song, a droll duet that developed into a huge chorus number, a few low-brow comedy songs for the vaudevillians, and a big finish with the entire cast.



    Convinced that every song should be integral to the plot, Hammerstein introduced a rare seriousness to the musical, writing musical comedies and operettas with well-constructed books and songs that moved the action forward rather than stop it cold – some of the most successful operettas of the 1920s and 1930s - Rose-Marie, The Desert Song, The New Moon and Sunny among them, many with one of Broadway’s greatest composers, Jerome Kern, one of the seminal figures in Broadway history.



    In 1927, Hammerstein teamed with Kern again and wrote the book and lyrics and directed the landmark musical Show Boat for Florenz Ziegfeld – with a massive cast of over a hundred, Show Boat is still one of the most complex shows in the history of musicals, dealing with racial prejudice and the plight of abandoned women – "Ol’ Man River," "Can't Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine," "Make Believe" and "Bill."



    Hammerstein continued to write narrative-heavy librettos for popular operettas while churning out movie scores and popular songs with a variety of composers that became part of the American popular songbook, including "Lover, Come Back to Me," "When I Grow Too Old to Dream," "All The Things You Are," "Indian Love Call," "The Last Time I Saw Paris" (which won an Oscar), "A Kiss To Build a Dream On," "Why Was I Born?," "I Won’t Dance" and "Who?" – but he was still pretty much unknown to the general public until his fateful collaboration with Richard Rodgers in 1942.



    Richard Rodgers, born in 1905 and seven years younger than Hammerstein, was anything but a show biz kid – he was the son of a doctor who was expected to become a physician himself - but he was also a musical prodigy, extemporizing melodies at four years old on the piano. Unlike Hammerstein, Rodgers was from a middle-class Jewish household which frowned upon the arts as a profession – by all accounts, his physician father was rather cold to the family – afterwards, he fled to his mother’s piano for solace:

    Rodgers: “The piano was the one means through which I could escape from the generally unpleasant atmosphere of my family life. There was hostility between my mother and father, between my grandmother and grandfather, and between my brother and me. Frequently, weeks went by without my parents speaking to each other, a situation that left me with a deep feeling of tension and insecurity. The strength of my father's voice frightened me so that even today loud voices make me jump. Any display of affection did not come easy to my mother, which made it all the dearer to me when she would express any love at all. In a house so full of hatred and tension, it was important to find one place where I could enjoy some measure of happiness and this was the corner of the living room with the piano."

    When Rodgers was eight years old, his father insisted on treating his son’s minor finger infection himself – often coming into Rodgers’ room and slicing open his finger to release the fluid. After almost of year of torment without painkillers, another doctor had to remove the bone from the finger, replacing it with a false fingertip which prevented Rodgers from ever making a career as a pianist. His childhood was filled with dread – and the resultant emotional trauma made Rodgers a closed-off, rather brusque character who mistrusted most people.



    As a young teen, he spent most of his time in the balcony of theaters, adoring the famous series of musicals at the Princess Theater written from 1915 to 1918 by Jerome Kern, Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse of Jeeves and Wooster fame. Instead of vaudeville routines or bloated operetta, they were sharp, fast, cheap shows that featured flappers and varsity men singing a variety of slang and innuendo with tremendous musical invention. The music was part of the “new jazz” and Rodgers itched to be a part of it.



    At sixteen years old, while writing shows for varsity clubs, he was introduced to his first collaborator with whom he would create some of the most famous musicals and popular songs of the 20th century – Lorenz Hart.



    Born to Jewish parents who emigrated from Germany, the twenty-three year old Hart was only 4 foot 11 with a head too large for his body, already prematurely balding and intense to the point of being manic. Always with a cigar, a glass of hard liquor and a handy “What’s Your Intoxicant?” while waving a fist full of dollars at anyone who would pay attention to him, Hart was already an extreme alcoholic in his early twenties. His wild mood swings, disappearances and depressions plagued Rodgers throughout their partnership – as did his closeted homosexuality.



    Mutual friends who knew both Rodgers and Hart were also aware of Hart’s unrequited feelings for the womanizing Rodgers. Vivienne Segal: "I have not a doubt in my mind that Richard Rodgers was the great love of Larry's life. So many of those songs could only have been written for him." Joshua Logan: "Everything that flowed from him originated in Rodgers."



    Rodgers himself was a legendary womanizer despite marrying an attractive socialite who bore the brunt of his infidelities for decades - some say Rodgers kept file cabinets recording his conquests, but he was willing to overlook anything to become a major player on Broadway – and Hart was a genius at lyric writing – some say the best that American popular song ever produced. He could write a lyric within a minute that was astonishingly witty and heart-breakingly melancholy. His lyrics were published in several papers as poetry - standing on their own merits without music to sustain them. His knack for conversational lyrics also brought a realism to Broadway lyric writing - no one had written so freely and so honestly before. He made audiences listen to the lyrics rather than swaying to the music.



    And unlike Tin Pan Alley hacks, Hart took lyrics as seriously as Hammerstein, considering himself a playwright rather than a poet with each song a mini-play. A quick look at the songs the duo wrote over a twenty year time period confirms their astonishing output: "Manhattan," "Blue Room," "The Lady is a Tramp," "My Heart Stood Still," "Have You Met Miss Jones?," "You Took Advantage of Me," "This Can’t Be Love," "Ten Cents a Dance," "Blue Moon," "Sing for Your Supper," "Dancing on the Ceiling," "Little Girl Blue," "Isn't It Romantic?" "Where or When," "I Could Write a Book," "Thou Swell," "There’s a Small Hotel," "I Wish I Were in Love Again," "Falling in Love With Love," "Babes in Arms," "Johnny One Note," "It Never Entered My Mind," "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," "My Funny Valentine" and countless others.

    [/QUOTE]

    And shows by Rodgers and Hart on Broadway and in Hollywood in the 20s and 30s were equally famous – from the cinematic movie masterpiece Love Me Tonight to the groundbreaking On Your Toes (which introduced ballet to Broadway), Babes in Arms (a cast made of teens who originated the idea of “putting on a show!” starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in the movie version) and most importantly, Pal Joey, a show about a gigolo who sleeps with a rich woman to become rich and famous (which discovered Gene Kelly.) Rodgers and Hart were so famous a team that they landed a Time Magazine cover. But behind the curtain lay a much more sinister story.



    Slowly but surely, the closeted Hart was destroying himself. A hopeless romantic who suffered tremendous angst over his looks, his height, his sexuality, his emotional insecurity drove him to drink to excess and he was unable to write unless Rodgers literally locked him in a room. The out-of-control parties, the constant changing of hangers-on, the spending sprees, the manic lifestyle that led to an apartment so filthy that even the maid refused to enter it – mental illness and severe depression was driving Hart and he was unable to work.



    And Rodgers became desperate to do something – during the war, he was offered the opportunity to musicalize a new property, the Pulitzer-prize winning play Green Grow the Lilacs. But Hart couldn’t do it – refused to do it because he thought it was old fashioned – and so Rodgers sought out another lyricist who might be able to finish the project with him – Oscar Hammerstein II. And Hammerstein saw his new collaboration with Rodgers as the perfect opportunity to perfect his thoughts on the integrated blend of song, dance and book that he strove for in Show Boat fifteen years earlier. So he brought in modern dance choreographer Agnes de Mille and Russian director Rouben Mamoulian who had been trained at the Moscow Art Theater, founded by Stanislavski who developed method acting and naturalism. And on March 31, 1943, the first Rodgers and Hammerstein show – the fully integrated musical play Oklahoma! – opened on Broadway to rave reviews and the biggest box office take in Broadway history up to that point. A cast album was even recorded by Decca in a box set of 78 rpm records that sold over a million copies – before Oklahoma!, only the greatest hits of shows were released – now the entire score would be recorded from start to end so that the listener could follow the story.



    And suddenly, everything changed – Oklahoma! was a composite of the sharp and daringly subversive musical comedy of Rodgers and Hart – and the dramatic operettas of Oscar Hammerstein. Musicals in production in both Hollywood and on Broadway were cancelled or suspended as everyone marveled at this new way of telling a musical - where the songs, the dialogue and even the dance were all built as one coherent thematic structure to tell the story:

    Musical historian Thomas Hischak: "Not only is 'Oklahoma!' the most important of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, it is also the single most influential work in the American musical theatre. It is the first fully integrated musical play and its blending of song, character, plot and even dance would serve as the model for Broadway shows for decades."



    Theater historian William Zinsser: Oklahoma! was a milestone…later historians writing about important moments in twentieth-century theatre would begin to identify eras according to their relationship to Oklahoma!"



    Oklahoma! became the touchstone for all future Broadway shows - no longer was it possible to create a show with a slipshod score or a shoddy book - critics would compare it to Oklahoma! and to its songs - "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "Surrey With the Fringe On Top," "I Cain't Say No," "People Will Say We're In Love," "Lonely Room," and the amazingly erotic "Out of My Dreams/Dream Ballet" with its psychological realism. So other composers like Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Leonard Bernstein, Frank Loesser and others immediately stopped what they were doing and tried to create new shows in the Rodgers and Hammerstein mold. The ideal of the integrated musical as pinnacle of all musicals lasted well into the 1960s even when that predominant form was fading away under the brunt of popular culture.



    Lorenz Hart’s mother was so heartbroken at Rodgers' new success without her son that she passed away shortly after the premiere – Hart himself went into a tailspin of suicidal behavior, living on the streets with a bottle in his hand. Rodgers tried to make amends by reviving one of their older shows – but Hart was already a dead man walking when he showed up at the theater drunk and made a commotion. Rodgers had him thrown out of the theater – and he was found half-dead in the gutter a few days later. He died six months after the premiere of Oklahoma! – his death haunted Rodgers for the rest of his life.



    The collaboration between Hammerstein and Rodgers continued to reach the creative peaks of musical theater under the watchful gaze of the teenage neighbor of Oscar Hammerstein who practically lived at the Hammerstein residence to avoid his abusive mother – Stephen Sondheim. A precocious teen who was crazy about puzzles and chess, Sondheim was immediately drawn to the puzzle-like nature of the integrated musical play.



    Nominally there to befriend Hammerstein’s sons, the elder Hammerstein trained Sondheim in musical writing as R&H (as they soon became known) created Carousel (a groundbreaking show about a wife-beating roundabout who commits suicide), Allegro (a through-danced concept musical that told of the slow corruption of a small-town doctor, South Pacific (a show nominally about the heroism of World War II and ended up really being about racism back in the states), The King and I ( a show about the difficulty of reconciling Western vs. Eastern values of democracy) and Flower Drum Song (a show about immigrants either resisting or embracing American cultural values).



    And these shows were as contentious as they were popular in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The political views of Rodgers and Hammerstein were antithetical to an America in the grip of communist hysteria. Oscar Hammerstein was a professed “one-worlder” who was an outspoken advocate for civil rights – South Pacific was banned in several Southern cities due to its approval of miscegenation. Ayn Rand criticized Rodgers and Hammerstein for their “radical” views and Hammerstein was called before the House of Un-American Activities for his suspect views on race and equality.



    Rodgers himself was also a critic of the Eisenhower administration who infamously almost got into a fight with John Foster Dulles at a White House dinner and later wrote a musical about an interracial romance. Angry fans of Oklahoma! sent Rodgers letters of shattered records in the mail to register their anger at his betrayal of what they considered to be true American values - no miscegenation.



    And yet, Rodgers and Hammerstein weathered it all because they were so popular that all three major networks gave concurrent broadcasts of a tribute to their work in the mid-50s. But in the late 1950s, they began to slow down – Rodgers had become an alcoholic himself at the advent of Hart’s death and pursued younger and younger women to add notches to his belt as he continued to portray himself as the perfect family man. Rodgers also learned that fame and fortune wasn’t everything in a racist America - he became obsessed with a county club that refused to admit Jews and up to his death, stuggled to get admittance (he never did). He suffered through mouth cancer at a time when a diagnosis was practically a death sentence. His daughter Mary Rodgers became best friends with Stephen Sondheim and both watched her father spiral into a state so severe that Rodgers was committed to an asylum for depression for four months, beset by phobias and terrors.



    During this time, Hammerstein had become all too happy to coast on past laurels and began stepping away from dark subject matter. He admitted that tragedy existed in life – but rejected the post-war existential angst emerging in American popular culture. By 1959, his protégé Stephen Sondheim had already written lyrics for two musicals that went far beyond his own work in pushing the boundaries of musical theater subject matter – West Side Story and Gypsy.



    And then came The Sound of Music in 1959. Based on the true story of the Von Trapp family, the story about a nun rejecting her calling for a family – only to flee the Nazis – was appealing to Hammerstein at a time of great turmoil in both American life and his own. Hammerstein was unwell and unable to write the libretto – his wife was given his terminal diagnosis of stomach cancer with instructions not to tell her husband (yes, doctors did that then!) and Hammerstein worked through enormous pain to finish the show. His last lyric, Edelweiss, was added to the show and Hammerstein retired to his country house to pass away six months later. He never saw the movie version that marked the end point of the art form he had in so many ways created.



    The world was changing from The Sound of Music to a more modern beat. And so was the Broadway and off-Broadway theater. The culture shock taking place in the 1960s led to a far more pessimistic view of society and musicals were swept along with it.



    “Sick” humor, ethnic humor and mockery of conventional forms and content drove the new musical like Stop the World, I Want to Get Off, Hair and Sondheim's own Anyone Can Whistle. And it also encouraged the growth of small off-Broadway musicals and cabaret shows that had a much more cynical edge than anything on Broadway at the time.



    One of the most popular small theaters was Upstairs at the Downstairs, a small cabaret club that premiered Money – A Musical Play for Cabaret in 1964 with music by Sam Pottle and book and lyrics by David Axlerod and Tom Whedon, a veteran writer for Captain Kangaroo and writer of a previous off-Broadway musical, All Kinds of Giants. Tom’s wife Lee was also musically gifted – not only did she meet her husband in a musical show, but she played in off-Broadway productions of Oklahoma! and Finian’s Rainbow. So love of musicals were in Joss Whedon’s DNA.



    Money was an unconventional show that mimicked the popular off-Broadway musical The Fantasticks in its tiny cast of four and even tinier space. A Brechtian piece that satirized the current vogue for “finding yourself” in movies and plays, the lead character Harry is a wealthy, self-sufficient playboy who meets Cynthia, the woman of his dreams, only to find that she wants him to be a man who has genuine problems rather than a carefree lifestyle. The dialogue and lyrics are played for irony, both mocking the archetypal hero who must struggle to attain his goal and the musical form itself:

    CYNTHIA: Love is more than money. I should be able to help the man I love – start with him at the very bottom and share his joys and sorrows as he goes through life working with a goal in mind. With all you money you don’t need me.
    HARRY: Yes. I do need you.
    CYNTHIA: Then you’re insecure.
    HARRY: I’m perfectly secure.
    CYNTHIA: I’ve seen the way you throw money around, buying sandwiches like there’s no tomorrow. You call that secure? You must have had a miserable childhood.


    And Harry wracks his brain to think of some kind of misery:

    HARRY:
    No wait, no, don’t tell me
    I’ve thought of a problem
    Last Tuesday at half past two
    The light in my bathroom blew




    But this isn’t enough for Cynthia, who sends Harry on several journeys to find himself a good job and a purpose in life. Harry joins a company but just as his work day begins, the workers go on strike:

    MAN:
    Men of the working classes
    Rise to the day with a shout
    Get up off your downtrodden masses
    And walk right out!


    Management ends up acceding to every demand until Harry finds that he no longer has to work at his work – and Cynthia makes him quit for something more demanding – like a doctor! And Harry becomes a doctor only to find that money guides the medical profession instead of the Hippocratic Oath:



    HARRY: I couldn’t overcharge people who are sick and can’t afford to pay.
    DOCTOR: Poor people? Forget about them. They come in here and never pay off anyway. The rich, my boy. Take a lesson from Robin Hood – bleed those bastards! Now here are some interesting methods of fee-splitting you might not know about: kickbacks from pharmacies, recommending a particular brand of aspirin, diet foods, some of those companies will pay through the nose.




    Harry quits only to mope with Cynthia and her friend Bernie about his lack of purpose. And they suggest he join a group with strong views:

    ALL:
    What do you care?
    Dig up a cause
    If you can stand it
    Stand up and demand it be followed
    And that’s a commitment!

    So Harry goes to several organizations – only to find that they’re not what they seem:

    HARRY: I heard about your excellent patriotic achievements and since I’m searching for commitment, this seemed like the ideal place. You know, Americanism and everything.
    HEAD OF THE VETERAN’S LEGION OF AMERICA: Could you run a movie projector?
    HARRY: Movie projector?
    HEAD OF THE VETERAN’S LEGION OF AMERICA: For the dirty movies. Every Thursday, after the Pledge of Allegiance, we show dirty movies.


    And it’s the same everywhere, left or right:



    HARRY: Is this the Red Hammer and Sickle Socialist Labor Workers People’s Peace Party Group?
    HEAD: Yes, it is.
    HARRY: Just exactly how does your organization function?
    HEAD: Oh, you know. We stir up trouble – demonstrate in front of the UN, picket, make speeches in Union Square, blow up stuff, things like that.
    HARRY: In other words –
    HEAD: Right. We’re an FBI front group.


    And the trio comes to a conclusion:

    ALL: Once we’re all committed, we’ll be fine!

    And Harry finally leaves Cynthia in disgust, who sings a supposedly sorrowful ballad to close Act I about the kind of man that she desires:

    CYNTHIA:
    A man with a mission my conscience suggests
    A man with an office my mother requests
    A man who will need me – that’s Redbook’s advice
    A man who attracts me might also be nice


    In Act II, Cynthia finds Harry living the “simple life” in his little lean to in California where everything’s as fake as a movie set:

    HARRY:
    You’ll appreciate the architect’s attempt to capture early California
    Everything is done in subtle non-specific Spanish stucco topped with tile
    In the patio the muzak plays “Juanita” and I guess I’d better warn ya
    Why that swimmin’ pool that’s shaped like Sutter’s Mill just seems to whisper “stay awhile.”
    Stay awhile, stay awhile – tie your troubles to a hitchin’ post and smile
    Rest a spell, rest a spell – if the world goes by without you – what the hell.


    But Cynthia has another bright idea – if Harry has so much money, why not be a philanthropist? And Harry eagerly trots down to the local charity to give his money away in a sung-through fifteen minute piece called “The Philanthropist’s Progress – A Cautionary Cantata":

    HARRY:
    My name is Harry Clay and I am very rich
    I have come to donate a million bucks to charity
    MAN: Accepted with thanks. Ev’ry million counts, you know.
    HARRY: But first would you give me a breakdown of where this money is to go?
    MAN: Of course!
    15% for operational expenses
    25% for miscellaneous
    26% for extraneous deductions
    6% for the overhead
    8% for underwear
    12% for maintenance
    And 10% for other!
    HARRY: Wait a minute! That’s 102%
    MAN: Exactly! You owe us $20,000.


    And when Harry is arrested for trying to pass a dollar to a man on the street – a non-registered charity – he finally throws up his hands and gives up trying to win Cynthia only to find that she has come to the same decision. And they live greedily ever after:



    ALL: You won’t see me, my friend, get caught for speeding
    I’ll take it slow, I’ll take it free
    I might sit down and spend some time just reading
    Or simply thinking of no one but me.

    Who needs the strife and aggravation?
    Let’s make our life one long vacation
    Go with the breeze – every day is Sunday
    Let’s take it at our ease – so grab a pair of skis
    We’ll meet you at the Pyrenees
    Who wants to work?

    So let’s relax – relax together
    Lie on our backs and dig the weather
    We’ll sit around – just compound our pleasure
    Oh, what a life we’ve found
    We’ll loaf the clock around
    While others founder, we’ll just smirk
    Who wants to work?


    This deft satire played for over 200 performances – quite a long time for a small space – and in the meantime, Tom Whedon worked on a puppet-centered children’s piece with an unknown Jim Henson which eventually became a television special in the 70s. The ironic, playful wit that Whedon displayed in Money – A Musical Play served him well in his future work with the Children’s Television Workshop and his gig as the head writer for the musically eclectic The Electric Company.



    His collaborator Sam Pottle also worked for the Children’s Television Workshop on Sesame Street and was the conductor for an off-Broadway show by Marshall Barar and Mary Rodgers (Richard Rodgers’s daughter) called The Mad Show based on the subversive humor of Mad Magazine. It featured Linda Lavin, Jo Anne Worley, Paul Sand, Richard Libertini and Joe Raposo – later to be the prolific composer of the title song from Sesame Street and other famous songs. But it was an interpolation called "The Boy From..." by a certain Esteban Rio Nido that garnered a huge amount of praise – a pseudonym for Mary’s best friend Stephen Sondheim.



    And for Joseph Hill Whedon who was born in 1964 – the same year that Money premiered - Sondheim was everything. His relationship with his father was contentious throughout his childhood – the only point at which they could agree was their mutual love of Sondheim.

    Whedon: “Some fathers can’t really talk to their sons, but they can throw a baseball. We’d throw on all the Sondheim albums.”



    And growing up on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, Whedon was exposed to Sondheim continually - his mother taught literature at Riverdale Country School in the Bronx and starred in Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. When his parents separated, Whedon pointed to Sondheim as the way that he learned to cope. “Sondheim wasn’t someone you would go to if you wanted to be told that everything was perfect.” By the age of nine, he had memorized Follies, a show about two unhappy marriages with showgirls – it was a backstager, a memory play and a horror story as a reunion of Follies girls turns into a night of phantasmagoric terror in which the characters are haunted by the ghosts of the past – all told through pastiches of classic American Popular Song.



    The number that meant more than any other to Whedon was “The Road You Didn’t Take” in which a man looks back at his past and regrets the life choices that are now closed to him forever.

    Whedon: “The notion that every choice you make means that other possibilities are eliminated forever – as a kid, I found that terrifying. As an adult, I still find it scary.”

    A bullied and lonely child, Whedon buried himself in comic books and Shakespeare and musicals. “We’d walk down the street, singing the entire libretto to Sweeney Todd,“ said a friend. As a teen, Whedon auditioned for West Side Story and brought down the house with the comedic number “Gee, Office Krupke.”



    When he graduated school and went to Wesleyan, he became fascinated by movies – enough to major in film studies. After graduation, Whedon got a few gigs as a television writer thanks to his father. He wrote a parody of the Oliver North hearing using the songs from the musical Oliver! and played the recordings at parties. Producers took notice and he got a few more gigs that led to a place on the writing staff of Roseanne. He finished an eighty page draft while waiting out his contract on a small piece originally called, “Martha the Immortal Waitress” which developed into the title Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Amazingly, it was picked up by producers, but Whedon remained unhappy with the final product which did not resemble the dark, feminist action film he had envisioned.



    After script-doctoring various movies like The Getaway and Speed in 1993 - for which he received no credit, Whedon decided to return to his first love and work on musicals. So he signed on with Disney Animation Studios at the very moment that they were experiencing a massive resurgence of the movie musical with The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Surely Whedon would eventually have a major musical success now that he was working for a company that owned a theme park that dubbed itself The Happiest Place in the World. What could go wrong?

    Last edited by American Aurora; 06-05-17 at 08:01 AM.

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    Hey Aurora

    Normally I rewatch the ep before I read the reviews but I'm going to read through these initial background posts first this time and pop the DVD on later today. I'm sure you're going to deepen my appreciation of the genre, and so this fantastic and unique Buffy episode.

    But the director knew this shot had to be perfect – he understood that the first fifteen minutes set the tone and tenor of a musical. If the viewer failed to accept the initial set-up of the film’s musical premise – if they failed to buy the reality of the title character’s opening number – then the film would be a complete failure because the very premise of a musical depends upon the agreement between the creators and the audience that the absurdity of characters bursting into song is not only appropriate to tell a story, but even possibly more revealing of character and meaning than a documentary-like version of reality.

    For the later reveals truths through moments of supposedly unfiltered reality – a simulacrum of real life – but the former reveals truths through an intentional rejection of reality – a mythological reading of the subtext that lies behind real life. Like action movies and science fiction/fantasy genres, the musical relies upon a kind of narrative unreality that often reveals more than it obscures – but unlike the first two genres, it not only differs from a “realistic” film through fantastical content, but through time and form itself. The time of a dialogue-heavy scene runs differently from the time that drives a musical number – and the difference between them creates the dynamic fission that fuels a musical piece. Transformation is the sine qua non of the musical – without it, the musical cannot exist.
    I just love this.



    - - - Updated - - -

    Even though I've only seen a very tiny number of musicals on stage and have very limited knowledge about them, those I have been fortunate enough to see I've loved. I was lucky enough to be taken to see Blood Brothers for my ninth birthday and I saw Starlight Express shortly after that too. Sadly, and much to my mum's irritation, I don't remember at all my trip when I was younger to see Michael Crawford in Barnum, around the early to mid 80s. The tapes from the shows I'd seen were joined by others, such as Joseph and Fame, and were played enthusiastically and sung along to badly whenever travelling on family outings in my teens. My musical theatre treats have been sadly even more limited in recent years. I think the last live performance I saw was Chicago with Marti Pellow, which must have been over ten years ago now.

    As a child I was obsessed with watching Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I still adore it, despite seeing the horrific sexism very differently as an adult. Again, even though I've enjoyed them (some more than others, of course!), what I've seen of musical movies old and new is somewhat limited. I'm sad to say a very large portion of the writers, musicals, songs, composers etc that you mention throughout your posts so far weren't references I recognised. I put this down in equal parts to my narrow pot of experience, with poor general knowledge thrown on top, and to the startlingly rich, extreme contrast to that which you are able to unerringly provide.

    The few times an unexpected venturing into musical realms has occurred in other settings, as you mentioned, I've always been delighted. I bought the soundtrack to Xena's The Bitter Suite very quickly after seeing it and it remains a pinnacle point in the show for me. Very recently I was ecstatic to find that I could order a DVD copy of The Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner Movie from Australia (my video player having finally given up its long life, making the tape from my childhood worthless). This of course includes the fabulous short What's Opera, Doc? An utterly brilliant parody of Wagner's operatic work, still 'music drama', as you say, and delivered through animation. I don't find traditional opera very appealing personally, but this is a true classic, cutting across genres, to enjoy and share with all ages.



    OMWF was another such treat for me too. Having watched BtVS unspoiled, it came as a totally delightful surprise!

    In particular I found the history of dramatic storytelling and oral tradition you provided very interesting. Especially the links between comedy against tragedy, the use of the chorus and the development of musical plays and theatre (although I have to say I always find it hard to retain the 'who's who' of the Greek and Roman histories, gods and mythologies. ). This exploration of life as a performance with musicals as a tool for storytelling that breaks from reality to communicate more acutely with an audience is just terrific. I loved the neurological additional points too as it made such sense to me alongside the improvements that music can bring to many for memory and learning (perhaps there is a song which summarises the Greek/Roman histories I could learn!!).

    I really enjoyed reading about the developing social/cultural attitudes towards musicals, the influences, changes and shifts, leading up and into OMWF. Your thoughts on Joss' deep interest in musicals, the influence of being from a family with related backgrounds along with the further detailed historical development of musicals on Broadway were just fantastic. I wonder whether the credentials of his relatives and the deeply shared love of the genre was at all off-putting because, if anything, I'm now pretty surprised it took until S6 before Joss saw, or perhaps acted on, the possibility of drawing the musical genre into an episode of BtVS!

    Having failed to get around to watching the ep tonight, I'm hopefully going to do so tomorrow. But I just wanted to pop a response so far up as I'm sure this is going to really inform my viewing of the episode, as I'll definitely be looking for so much more in it now.

    (As a quick aside, if you were to recommend a particular production of Oklahoma! to buy, which would it be? )
    Last edited by Stoney; 08-05-17 at 12:55 PM.

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