Monday, April 2, 2012

Buffy: Villains (6.20)

The overriding sense of the writers failing to have the courage of their conviction feeds into Villains, especially when it comes to the obvious themes of the episode. Much of Marti Noxon's script is about morality, and whether it's right for Willow to pursue her own form of vengeance. Buffy insists that, regardless of his actions, Warren is a human and therefore should be punished by human means. Willow, suited to her character, bulldozes through the show demanding instant retribution. The issues of what is right and wrong and whether capital punishment is ever really a good thing are both strong, but all of it is undermined via the cop out of making Warren such a reprehensible sack of shit. As a result, it's hard not to cheer Willow on when she's slicing the creep up, and that sort of diminishes the credibility of the episode.

Regardless, it's pretty much impossible to not get a kick out of Willow embracing the dark side. The ink being absorbed into her eyes and hair is an insanely cool CGI effect, while Alyson Hannigan's chilly vocal tone makes her transformation mightily effective. At least in this episode, she manages to ground Willow's insanity in complete and utter grief and devastation, so numb to the pain that she literally storms through Sunnydale determined to find and slaughter Warren. Only in that final confrontation does her mask drop, Willow's inner turmoil breaking through as she realizes how powerful yet tiny a bullet is, along with her moral outrage at the fact that Warren is still walking the earth while Tara is long gone. It's a stunning scene, with Warren's graphic demise one of the most jaw-dropping moments in the Whedonverse.

However, Villains kind of falters in a lot of other areas. Marti Noxon's script is bogged down by poor pacing, certain scenes (notably the Warren/Rack, Warren/demon bar parts) dragging on far longer than they needed to. Spike's subplot in Africa is also a major drag, an unnecessarily long-winded road to one lone moment of interest, inexplicably spread over three episodes just to keep James Marsters around in one form or another.

Speaking of Spike, it's frustrating that his sexual assault is swept under the carpet. I understand why Buffy would still trust Spike with Dawn, and I understand that Tara's murder and Willow's rampage immediately puts her relationship baggage on the back-burner, but it unintentionally creates a 'forgive your attempted rapist' sensibility. Again it's an issue of the writers developing much of season six in one-episode vacuums that do create immediate discussion and controversy but end up contrived when placed in the context of a twenty two-episode season. It's fine to introduce shocking developments and run with them, but don't create scenes like Buffy's assault and then kind of phase out their existence like you're embarrassed.

Villains is by far the strongest of this final three-episode run, if only because the writers root Willow's transformation in something actually real. The Willow seen here still feels like the Willow of old, and you can understand and partially empathize with her behavior. It's by no means a perfect episode, and a lot of the morality talk is far too explicitly drawn to work successfully, but it's still an engaging hour that makes a lot of impression. B-

Guest stars Danny Strong (Jonathan Levinson); Adam Busch (Warren Meers); Tom Lenk (Andrew Wells); Jeff Kober (Rack); Amelinda Embry (Katrina Silber); Amber Benson (Tara Maclay)
Writer Marti Noxon Director David Solomon


  1. I love, as always, your analysis of this show... I'm a big television fan (I would have said "huge" but there's no way I compare to you =)), so I love hearing someone else's opinions on arcs and continuity. Thank you so much for keeping up the writing. Are you sponsored in any way? Or do you just do this for your readers and your own interest?

  2. Thanks so much, E Roach. And, no, this is all freelance. The readers are nice, but generally I would still do it even if nobody were reading. It's just something I've naturally always done, and the feedback so far has been pretty wonderful.

    And it's actually not as much work as you would think, since I'm ahead on all the shows I review so it's not like I literally review twelve different episodes each week. That would probably break me down.

    But it's a lot of fun for me, and the readers are just an additional bonus.

    Thanks again for reading.

  3. Really liking these reviews! One thing I will never get is why Buffy sent Dawn to Spike after what he tried to do to her. All chips in heads, him liking Dawn aside, you just would not do that to your sister! You wouldn't! Ahhh!
    Sorry, that always bugged me. Aside from that I really liked evil willow, especially the whole 'bored now' thing in reference to Vamp Willow (who I LOVE!)

  4. Adored Vamp Willow! Such a badass character!