Monday, June 25, 2012

Buffy: Empty Places (7.19)

I remember at the time believing the last ten minutes of Empty Places ranks down there among the very worst things Buffy ever did. But... I don't know, I still have numerous problems with it, but I think I understand what they were trying to do. I keep reiterating it, but this whole season has been about Buffy's journey to becoming a trusted, successful leader -- and the idea of discomfort and mutiny within the ranks would naturally fit into that. And I don't think it's wrong to state that Buffy's plan to head back into the vineyard feels a little misjudged. So in principal, I get what they were going for, and I somewhat understand the motivations of the ensemble. But, damn, those pesky issues can't be ignored.

For seven seasons, the Scooby Gang have always followed Buffy into potentially dangerous situations, with few questions asked. They're confident in their own abilities and feel like it's the right thing to do, so they do it. Throwing this level of insecurity into the end of the series could potentially work, but jars like crazy with the pre-existing characterization of the Scoobs over the years. Xander, in particular, doesn't make a whole lot of sense here. Yes, he's understandably shaken by the events of last week, but it's not Buffy's fault that he voluntarily journeyed into that fight when he knew he doesn't have the greatest of chances against a powerful threat. He never had a problem going up against a God, am I right? So his part in the argument feels contrived.

Giles, too, is illogical here. Wasn't he the guy whining about the cast going on dates just a couple of episodes ago? And now he's the one allowing Faith to take the girls partying, and questioning Buffy's leadership? Elsewhere, Willow acts just as invisible as she has been since Kennedy showed up -- once again piping down and allowing her bratty jailbait GF to talk for her. That isn't the Willow of old, and I have no idea why the show is doing this to her, especially so soon after her wonderful guest spot on Angel. Anya's statements are absurd. Her issue is entirely unrelated to the discussion at hand, sourced from what appears to be her own personal resentment of Buffy rather than anything actually important. Then again, as Buffy recently asked, why is she even there? If she seemingly dislikes her so much, why is she holding up in her house taking up valuable space? Ugh.

The potential's issues are slightly more valid since they haven't seen Buffy's humanity or her vulnerabilities, but while the Scooby Gang fall into the category of cheap contrivance, the slayerettes end up appearing like bigger whiners than usual. As I mentioned when they first appeared, it's hard to care about these one-note eyesores, and they're so useless as people that their well-being isn't really an issue for us at home. Rona, in particular, is always whining about the Bringers wanting her dead, yet is happy to stick around under the protective shield of the slayer. But you can't have it both ways. Like Anya, either respect the person in charge and coherently talk out your issues with her, or stop leeching off her home, her food and her protection. It's not difficult to understand.

Yes, Buffy's decision to head back to the vineyard, while her logic rings true, isn't the greatest of plans so soon after everything went wrong. But stable, rational people would discuss this with her, instead of using the group meeting as an opportunity to dump all over her with the generally irrelevant issues that have been festering for a while. It's something of a slap in the face to long-time fans, too, when characters who have actually talked their issues out on a consistent basis since the show began suddenly switch and become petulant and ridiculous.

I completely understand the narrative motivation for this, but its execution is frequently lazy and, dangerously of all, pretty alienating. Only Faith manages to come out of it with some dignity intact, while characters like Willow, Kennedy and Rona have never come off so badly. It's a baffling decision in some ways, when it could have been depicted much more believably with just a little script tinkering.

The rest of Empty Places is actually pretty underwhelming. Presumably the elaborate ending was planned first, forcing Drew Z. Greenberg to crawl around filling the prior thirty minutes, but it's sort of a chore to get through. Spike and Andrew's team-up is amusing, but the resolution with the vague prophecy feels flat. The cops on Faith's tail are a necessary plot point to pursue, but is a little nondescript on-screen, while the Caleb scenes feel like unnecessary remakes of the exact same moments last week. I like the ideas that the show reaches for with Empty Places, but the execution just doesn't work out. C-

Credits
Guest stars Anthony Stewart Head (Rupert Giles); Eliza Dushku (Faith); Nathan Fillion (Caleb); Tom Lenk (Andrew Wells); Iyari Limon (Kennedy); Indigo (Rona); Sarah Hagan (Amanda); Kristy Wu (Chao-Ahn); Dorian Missick (Officer); Larry Clarke (Priest); DB Woodside (Principal Robin Wood)
Writer Drew Z. Greenberg Director James A. Contner

2 comments:

  1. Hiya, long time no see..

    I totally agree, Xander throwing in that line about the eye was awful! Giles comes across as being hurt about his cold treatment from Buffy but he's never been petty before so why now after such a big conundrum. Anya should have just been blasted down! I think she's quite interesting in that she always wears her heart on her sleeve- but really. One thing that annoys me though is how all of the potentials have just been granted leave from their normal lives without there being any explanation as to why noone cares where they are. And I can't bloody remember their names either! This is the apocalypse people- there's no time for names!

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  2. I was wondering how you felt about it. It's just crazily alienating, and they all come off so horrible about it. The feelings are understandable, but expressing them like assholes isn't necessary at all.

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