Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Whedonverse Classic #6: Buffy, the Vampire Slayer's "Some Assembly Required"

Welcome to a very special 4th of July edition of the Whedonverse Classic. I am wearing red, white and blue as I write. I look like Uncle Sam right now. Actually, I am not wearing those colors, and I don't resemble Uncle Sam. The 4th of July Whedonverse Classic won't be any more different or special than if the day was the 5th of July. I am watching coverage of Philadelphia's 4th of July celebration along Independence Mall, but I'm also thinking about SEPTA and how disruptive the detour must be. Wait for a bus today and you're a fool. You're better off walking to your destination. Anyway, none of this involves Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Happy 4th of July, though!

1998 marked the year Buffy, the Vampire Slayer broke out and became a critical darling. Season 2 is a transcendent season of television. I won't write about any transcendent episodes today, though. In case you're new to the Whedonverse Classic, I aim to write about the ignored and forgotten episodes of Buffy and ANGEL. So many words have been written about the best episodes of both shows, but there needs to be love for the ignored and forgotten episodes like "The Price," "No Place Like Home," "Him," "The House Always Wins," and "Guise Will Be Guise." Please click the links according to your own interests.

I have a strong fondness for "Some Assembly Required." It's the second episode of the second season and in the same vein as those season one monster-of-the-week adventures. The episode is a modern take on Frankenstein. It introduces three characters we'll never see again. The Scoobies work hard to figure out the grave-robbing mystery and then stop the teens from completing their own bride of Frankenstein. Early Buffy episodes excelled in balancing character with plot. Buffy, Giles, Willow and Xander never became pieces moved around, mechanically solving monster-of-the-week mysteries; no, the characters constantly evolve and learn during the silliest monster-of-the-week adventures.

"Some Assembly Required" is a love story, though not in the traditional sense of 'love story.' The Frankenstein story is a product of brotherly love. The love between two brothers is the reason why graves are being robbed. The character Chris is a quiet, nice man who helps Willow learn the secret of acing the school science fair. Cordelia's even sweet with Chris, which shows how harmless and nice a guy Chris is. Willow tells Buffy about Chris's back story: two years ago, his older brother died in a car accident; ever since Daryl's death, Chris has been quiet, and his mother is a shell of her self. The reason why Chris and his friend rob graves is because they're building a body for his reanimated brother. Chris restored his brother to life through science because he couldn't bear the thought of being alone, or the thought of his brother being alone. Chris isn't a monstrous character; he's quiet and subdued, unwilling to kill the living to complete the body. Grave-robbing isn't a moral act. Chris doesn't pretend he's doing the right thing. Chris simply wants to build his brother a partner. His brother is alone and deformed in the basement, unable to go outside.
Buffy, Giles, Xander and Willow figure out the mystery early on. The only time Buffy's physical is when Chris' friend tried to kidnap Cordelia and when she fights Daryl in the lab. Buffy opts to talk with Chris about the reasons he chose to grave-rob and bring his brother back. Chris remembered how his older brother protected him, took care of him and loved him. Chris wanted to return the favor. The decision was made out of selfishness. After the reanimation, Daryl told Chris that he shouldn't have brought him back. Buffy doesn't follow up on the question. She's concerned with the immediate threat. Chris is upset because his brother's more monster than man. BuffyWiki raises the point of the reanimated Daryl returning without a soul because science restored him and not magic--this point makes me think about a whole new kind of thought about the Buffyverse. What is the relationship between a soul and magic? Is the lack of Daryl's soul a result of science? Perhaps Whedon's illustrating a point about science vs. faith. Science is cold and sterile; it provides answers without any magic or miracle or spirituality. Magic in Buffy is spiritual. Buffy returns from the dead in season six with a soul. Willow and Tara brought her back with magic. I'd need to think deeply and long about science vs. magic in Buffy and what it means and why Willow began as a science girl and ended as a beautiful Wiccan goddess. Whedonverse Classic isn't the space for me to figure it out. Buffy figures out the most immediate mystery but not the other, more complicated and mysterious mystery.

I sympathize with Chris as a character. I don't sympathize with the act of grave-robbing. We learn the basics about him in an easily relatable way. Joss and Greenwalt and the other writers were terrific in creating fully formed characters out of the most tertiary of them. Chris is the heart of "Some Assembly Required"--his grief and desire to 'find' his brother again. I think the story embraces the fundamental concept of brotherly love. Chris wants to further his brother's life again; he restored it and he wants to enrich it. The concept, according to Fromm, is based on the idea that we're all one. Chris and his brother aren't one anymore. Daryl died, and he dies again in the flames, holding onto his one hope to cure loneliness--the female body. Chris lets his brother burn, aware of the necessity of letting him go, of the possibility of peace awaiting Daryl wherever he's returning to.

Romantic love is the other component of the episode. Buffy and Angel play little games with each other because of their feelings for one another. Giles and Jenny have a date during the high school football game. Xanders dwells on how everyone's seemingly paired off by the end of the episode. Chris though the cure for his brother was another person who would love him in a way society wouldn't be able to. So, "Some Assembly Required" ruminates on this idea of partnership. Giles practices what he's going to say to a chair. Angel and Buffy say everything to each other except for what they really want to say. The characters want their own cure for loneliness.

Buffy summarizes the episode really well: "The whole thing was creepy. But at the same time...he was doing it all for his brother." The Angel-Buffy final scene caps off the episode well because it combines the sense of brotherly love with romantic love. Buffy thinks about Chris' act of brotherly love, and she and Angel finally communicate about their feelings of romantic love. Angel rightly points out that Chris took it over the edge; Buffy says, "Love makes you do the wacky," which is the second utterance of the line in the episode. Any kind of love makes people do the wacky. The ending's respectful and unexpected. I forgot about the final shot. The camera holds on Buffy and Angel as they walk off until a head stone appears in the foreground. The shot rests on Daryl's head stone. It reads: "DARYL EPPS. 1978-1996. REST IN PEACE.' I think it's a damn-near perfect ending to an episode.

Ty King wrote the episode. Bruce Seth Green directed it.

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.