Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Whedonverse Classic #7: Buffy, the Vampire Slayer's "As You Were"

Season 6 is the dark and depressing season. Joss Whedon and Marti Noxon wanted to tackle the trials and tribulations of being a twentysomething year old. Its sister show, ANGEL, depicted twentysomething life better and more consistently. "As You Were" is a damn solid story, though. I look upon my season 6 DVD box and shudder like Sideshow Bob. I remember only the horrible parts of the season. I looked over the DVD booklet and quickly decided on writing about "As You Were." I'm not sure if it's a forgotten episode because it marks Riley's last appearance and features Buffy's strong decision to move on from Spike. I refuse to write about the early episodes, any of the Willow drug addiction episodes, the post-wedding nonsense, so "As You Were" was really the only episode to not cause an involuntary shudder from me.

Buffy's feeling lousy about everything. I mean everything. She's working for a local fast food restaurant and a manager who's studying for his MBA at night, and who blows hard about politics while Buffy's simply trying to grind through the day. Buffy's responsible for house payments, tuition, and all other sorts of bills adults confront on a day-to-day basis. At night, she slays vampires who are repulsed by her smell. Her friends, and even Dawn, plan excursions to The Bronze without her, because Buffy's been a drag ever since she came back from the dead. While her friends frolic in The Bronze, Buffy cleans a grass stain from her coat. The next morning, she oversleeps and misses trash collection. Buffy's trapped in a sadomasochistic relationship with Spike, a soulless vampire. Each sexual encounter leaves Buffy feeling worse about herself. Overall, she's just sad, frustrated and lonely.

The Doublemeat Palace manager finally lets her work the counter instead of the grill. Buffy's first customer takes her by surprise. Riley Finn stands in front of her, dressed in black, with a scar on the left side of his face; it's like the sun came out on a dismal day for Buffy Summer. She doesn't form a coherent sentence and responds to what he says with bizarre non-sequiturs--"I have a cow on my hat"--and so on. Riley left Sunnydale over a year ago,. Their relationship ended badly. Buffy would've told him to stay, but she missed him by a couple of seconds. Now, her life is shit, and Riley's isn't. Later, she asks if he waited until the moment his life hit perfection to return and rub it in Buffy's face. Riley didn't. Buffy's question is a symptom of her own sense of self-worth. Riley's in town hunting a demon with his gorgeous badass wife, Sam. They needed the Slayer to track down a demon but fail to tell her the mission is "Do Not Kill." So, Buffy screws up, just like she screws up dinner earlier in the episode and has screwed up her life up to now.

Riley's presence is the topping on a horrible sundae for Buffy. Xander delivered a totally awesome monologue in "Into The Woods" about why Buffy needs to chase after Riley before he leaves Sunnydale for good. Riley's a solid and stable man--a rock even. Riley came into Buffy's life months after Angel left for LA and weeks after Parker used her for sex. Riley's the boy who got away. Buffy lost her mother and Giles, can't beat three geeks, has weird sex with Spike on The Bronze inside balcony, and works in fast food. Riley's married and a member of a badass black-ops demon fighting team with kickass benefits. Sam could've been Buffy if Buffy didn't push him away. Riley and Sam tag team on demons, which is what Buffy and Riley used to do. Sam's perceptive and sensitive; she possesses a keen insight into people she's just met. She helps Xander plan the wedding, comforts Willow about her magic addiction, and even relates with Buffy about Riley. Buffy's silently stung when she hears about Riley getting over her. It hurts Buffy that she was the girl Riley needed to move on from to find the love of his life.

A bad couple of days hits a breaking point when Riley finds Buffy in a crypt with Spike, naked. Buffy's so ashamed. Riley went to the crypt because Spike's been harboring killer demon baby eggs, so Buffy's reminded once more about Spike's lack of soul. The demon baby eggs are taken care of, and Spike gets his ass kicked. Riley doesn't rush to judgment; he doesn't make her feel as small and useless as a piece of trash; instead he helps her feel better. The episode's titled "As You Were" for a reason: Buffy needs to return to the person she was before life became so hard to bear. The whole episode builds to Buffy and Riley's final conversation. Beforehand, and before Buffy knows about Sam, she perceives Riley as her savior; she eyes him like they'll rekindle what they lost last year. Their romance is dead, though, but Riley's love for her isn't. The mark of a mature person is his or her capacity, or ability, to love. Riley tells her not to worry or dwell upon her occupation, fast food smell, or any of the myriad of things getting her down. Her ex appreciates the life he has currently. He knows life could turn his life upside down in a second. Its up and downs are part of the deal of living. Riley advises Buffy to remember one thing only, all the time, whenever she's up or down: herself: that she's a hell of a woman.

The following morning, Buffy ends her destructive sadomasochistic relationship with Spike. Riley reminded her of herself, of the deep strength she possesses to not only fight demons and vampires and save the world, but to fight herself against temptations and impulses and things that will make her feel less than whole, in other words, to save herself too. She leaves the crypt with a smile and walks into the sunshine.

Douglas Petrie did a tremendous job writing and directing "As You Were." The episode feels self-contained like a play. The first act doesn't feature the usual fireworks. It's slow and meditative and careful to establish how low Buffy feels before ending on Riley's return at Doublemeat Palace. The second act's devoted to Riley and Buffy as Buffy wonders whether they can be together again. Buffy's feelings come across in little way like the way she looks at him, touches him, and speaks. The act ends on the wife reveal. The killer eggs exist because Buffy and Riley need to accomplish something. The goodbye scene with Riley and Sam and the Scoobies is terrific because of how Petrie blocked it. Buffy stands to the side and actually disappears during the hugs and kisses. An overhead shot from the perspective of Riley and Sam shows Buffy standing far apart from her friends. Buffy's alienation is excellently depicted in "As You Were." If the whole season could've had the tone of "As You Were," I might not shudder every time I see the DVD box.


TimeTravellingBunny said...

I love season 6, in fact it's my favorite season, but As You Were is terrible - it's one of the two worst episodes of the season, but while Doublemeat Palace is a very weak episode, at least it doesn't contain such plot holes and doesn't make me furious. The way Riley is presented as a perfect Gary Stu who's so much above Buffy, and everyone seems to have collective amnesia about his vampire hookers incident, is infuriating. He's not passing judgement on Buffy? Oh how wonderful. What on Earth would give him the right to?! And how is it any of his business who Buffy is sleeping with - he left her after giving her an ultimatum, after HE was caught going to vampire hookers. Xander's speech from Into the Woods was anything but "awesome". He essentially blamed his friend for being betrayed by her boyfriend and, judging by AYW, managed to instill her the idea that the failure of that relationship was all her fault and that Riley was this wonderful guy she just HAS to be crazy about the way that Riley wants her to.

This seems like I'm not sympathetic to Riley. I was in season 5, when he was having an identity crisis since he didn't have a career, his life revolved around Buffy, and he felt that she didn't love him as passionately as he wanted her to. Which I think he was right - Buffy wanted to love Riley more than she actually did, since she had this idea that he was the kind of guy she should love. But it's not really her fault, it's not like you can make yourself feel mad overwhelming passion for someone, which Riley seemed to want her to. But blaming her for closing down was really unfair - Buffy was dealing with lots of stuff, and isn't the kind of woman who would cry on his shoulder; and Riley also closed down and never told her about his problems and issues about their relationship.She was there for him when he had problems (in Out of My Mind), but she was supposed to notice he had issues he wasn't telling her about, while she was dealing with her mother's tumor and her sister being a former ball of energy chased by a Hell god? I understand that he wanted her to need him, but he still acted a huge jerk. Buffy couldn't have been Sam, since they're different people and have different types of dynamic - just because Riley and Sam worked as a couple, doesn't mean that Riley and Buffy could. Personally, i always thought they were badly matched, so I don't think they ever could. But at least they could have had a decent conversation about their problems and sort them out in a better way - no fault of Buffy's.

TimeTravellingBunny said...

As You Were only works if it's seen as heavily POV episode - kind of like The Xeppo was for Xander. One of my online friends has this interpretation of the episode, because it's the only way to make sense of it: Buffy feels like crap, so she starts idealizing Riley, a blast from the past, and imagining him as some sort of ideal of "good" life that she's lost, forgetting the real Riley's flaws, thinking "oh if only I had stayed with him, everything would have been different", the way people start idealizing the past, not realizing that their problems lie elsewhere, not in whether they remained with or hooked up with some guy or girl. The others (Willow, Dawn, Xander and Anya) also are having their problems, so they see the Finns as this idealized couple, which is the Finns they are so Gary Stu-ish/Mary Sue-ish and why they tell everyone exactly what they want to hear. I guess if one tries really hard, even the silly Doctor plot can be made sense of (there have been nice fanwanks that Spike was really just holding the eggs for some pal of his to get quick money, which would be in character for season 6 Spike, unlike the idea of him as a big international arms dealer, which is hilarious).

But unfortunately, the episode seems to be intended to be taken totally straight. There are some good moments in it - the ending scene in which Buffy breaks up with Spike is great - but everything that features Riley and his wife is awful. It's like it's tailor-made for those who don't understand or appreciate season 6, though - it completely lacks the depth and complexity of characterizations, feelings and relationships we see in the rest of the season, it's like it's written by someone who was given a 20 words summary of what the story is: "Buffy's life sucks and she's in bad relationship, and then her Good Ex-Boyfriend comes back all awesome. Now write this!"

If all (or any) the other season 6 episodes were like As You Were, I would react with involuntary shudder every time.

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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.