I’ve already discussed my feelings on Lily/Anne as a figure of hope in Whedon’s bleak world when she appeared in one of my favorite episodes, Lie to Me. Her return comes just as Buffy herself requires an infusion of hope once she’s abandoned her sense of self and plunged into a hell dimension that, by design, offers no hope at all.
What I wasn’t prepared for this time around was how irritating Lily’s neediness and clinginess struck me. For a character who is supposed to be a glimmer of light, she generated a fair amount of ill will from me with her almost constant exclamations of sheer pitifulness. She irritated Buffy too, but like a helpless puppy, Lily demands saving – no matter how irritating the incessant whining can become.
Her redemption will follow in a couple of years, when Whedon pulls her out of the mothballs for one final chapter – though that won’t come in BtVS, but rather in the late days of Angel. Why so much fuss over such a minor character with a nary three appearances in the series?
She’s the anti-Buffy – desperately dependent and eternally grasping. While Buffy has an established identity, The Slayer, which she consistently struggles with and now runs from, Lily/Anne has none, shifting from one persona to the next, hoping to find one with meat on it, one that will fill in the interior of the ever-changing shell she wears. Rather than forging her own identity, she passively slips into others.
Meanwhile, the demons featured in this episode aim to rob her of any hint of self such that she has no name to identify with at all. “I am nothing,” is the mantra repeated by the elderly who roam the (presumably) LA. streets, cast off out of enslavement in the underworld/hell dimension once they’re too old and frail for hard labor.
I don’t believe Whedon gave the demon sect a name, though they deserve it on the merit of their appearance alone. I enjoyed leader Ken’s transformation from kindly street pastor to industrial slave maker/master, though I think any symbolism here becomes quite murky. Buffy’s final battle featuring her wielding a hammer and sickle (okay, I looked it up and technically it’s an African weapon called a hunga munga) points squarely at some comment on socialism – but what exactly?
Was Ken’s hell dimension a capitalist or a communist dystopia? And how does his posing as a church pastor to ensnare workers play into whatever analogy Whedon was brewing? Was Buffy a socialist savior with her hammer and sickle – or do we read that she co-opted the weapons from her enemy to free the oppressed from communist shackles? There’s just too much in this mix, and any commentary on economic/political ideology has to fight for attention with the more immediate theme of escaping and seeking identity.
At any rate, I rather enjoyed this episode. I don’t believe that season openers are BtVS‘s strong suit, but I don’t think they’re a weak link either. This one, like s2’s When She Was Bad, both takes us back to the previous season finale and jumps us through the summer into the start of the new school year. Whedon knows what he is doing even when he’s not doing it at his best.
Lily really worked my last nerve when she reacted to the news of Ricky’s death by immediately asking aloud who would take care of her now. I thought Ricky was awful and annoying, but her merited better than this.
Buffy only rescued maybe ten slaves from the metalworking underworld, which seemed to have at least two dozen lost youth toiling amidst the bubbling vats. After the portal was sealed, were those left behind consigned to the dimension for the rest of the days, and if so, did they sustain the revolution sparked by Buffy?
Okay, logic is not always on the table with Whedon, but if one day in the hell dimension was like one hundred years for humans, then they needed about 25 new slaves every day. I don’t think Ken, no matter how earnest, and his terrible church pamphlets could have supplied that level of labor, even with the unexplained complicity of the blood donor nurse at the plasma bank.
The Sunnydale segments were mostly funny. I thought Xander and Cordy’s awkwardness seemed forced, but the payoff arrived when they staked a vampire and fell into embrace over his dust with the flourish of romantic strings that we first heard in What’s My Line Part 2.
The confrontation between Giles and Joyce came as a surprise, but was quite believable in its origin. Giles was indeed guilty of deceit and Joyce had just cause for calling him on it. But I take heart that they will make more than amends in the upcoming Band Candy!