Season Three is following the same pattern as s2 – when Whedon used the initial ep to shore up the events of the finale while accounting for the intervening summer. Unlike many fans, I found s2’s When She Was Bad quite satisfactory in this regard. Whedon dallied another week with Some Assembly Required (I had a bigger problem with that) before audaciously rocketing away in #3 with the splendid School Hard and the introduction of Spike and Drusilla.
I guess three is the magic number in terms of seasonal story arc launches, as the same rhythm continues. The first two entries of s3, Anne and Dead Man’s Party, brought Buffy out of the depths of frustration and despair and reintegrated her into Sunnydale and her role as Slayer. Just as she resigns herself to continuing as The Chosen One, however, Buffy discovers that there are now actually a set of Slayers, or The Chosen Two, with the activation of Faith following the death of Kendra in Becoming Part 1.
Faith’s surprise arrival at The Bronze comes through another delicious misdirection, though a bit different from Kendra’s in What’s My Line Part 1, when Whedon set the audience up to believe Kendra to be an assassin from the Order of Taraka and sprang her Slayerness at the end of the episode. Faith appears at first to be another hapless vamp victim (after some flashy anachronistic disco moves on the Bronze dance floor!) until she’s found fighting ferociously in the alley.
We had to wait out nearly a full show to discover our last ersatz Slayer, whereas Faith announces herself almost immediately. Still, the below promo is one big spoiler:
What’s more, it blows the shock of Mr. Trick transforming into his game face and devouring the terribly unfortunate fast food drive-thru worker. And this won’t be Mr. Trick’s first sampling of Sunnydale’s fast food (employees). He later orders a pizza and immediately feeds on the delivery guy!
Moreover, the promo ruins the twist that the Slayer whom the demon-of-the-week Kakistos is hunting is not Buffy, but Faith! What to do when the writers set us up perfectly and then the promo exposes all the intricate interior architecture before its unveiling? Since I didn’t watch the show when it was broadcast, I don’t have to fret over the spoilers that the WB spills over David Greenwalt’s clever script.
The introduction of Faith smartly establishes her as both terrible trouble and awful fun. She’s a magnificent blast of sex and violence without restraint or shame. Buffy listens with irritation as Faith regales the Scoobies – especially Xander – with tales of Slayer conquests, which run the gamut from battling nude alongside besieged Baptists to alligator wrestling. Buffy is positively prim next to her new counterpart, but the pair are not antitheses in the same sense as Buffy and the meek, directionless Lily/Chanterelle from Anne and Lie to Me.
Faith reveals the suppressed, more carnal Buffy under the former cheerleader’s finish. Does Buffy yearn to eat and fuck after slaying, as Faith assumes? Buffy admits to craving a yogurt – and no comment on the horniness, despite the imploringly curious gazes from the entire Scooby squad. Faith is uninhibited and unapologetic – placing her into a solid contrast to Buffy but also suggesting that Buffy might escape some of her unhappiness and regret by just cutting loose and relinquishing herself to some baser desires. Faith knows Buffy as only a fellow Slayer can!
To use a sitcom analogy, Faith : Serena :: Buffy : Samantha on Bewitched.
Serena is the hedonist, the iconoclast to Samantha’s almost philistine suburban – except Sam cannot be like the other moms on Morning Glory Circle any more than Buffy can live the life of other teenagers on Revello Drive. They weren’t born for conventionality. Buffy and Sam aim for balance and maintenance of status quo in their dual lives; Faith and Serena’s ambitions lie no further than relishing and celebrating their power by exerting it without much conscience or care. These hot, wild, off-kilter brunettes are on the cusp on crazy and they just don’t give a shit, though they are inarguably intrigued by the more domestic existences of their equally matched blonde counterparts.
But the analogy stops short there. Unlike Serena, who gets off with a naughty giggle at the havoc created by her own mischief, Faith is rather unhinged, unable to rein herself in once a frenzy takes over, something that only Buffy realizes initially, perhaps intuiting at first from the ribald tales, but then confirming as the two are attacked by Kakistos’s lackeys. Yet the script then takes another turn – exposing Faith as not merely cavalier and reckless, but frightened and vulnerable – when she discovers that Kalistos has come for his revenge. Her characterization in this introduction lays out much of her progression for the season – she’s not evil but definitely dangerous, and her own weaknesses lead her downhill faster than any opponent could aspire to.
A word on Eliza Dushku: I really love her as Faith. She’s got the swagger and imposing physical build to contrast with the more lithe and petite Sarah Michelle Gellar. While I never had a great problem with Dushku as Echo on my beloved Dollhouse, I do get Mr. Lousy’s complaint: she isn’t a great actress who can convincingly portray an array of diverse characters. She’s sort of like a less glamourous Ava Gardner in her earthiness and uncompromising sexuality, which is why Faith (and not Echo) makes the perfect role for her. In ten years, I might cast Eliza Dushku as Maxine Faulk in Night of the Iguana. (Yet I am afraid I can’t go with Sarah Michelle Gellar as her foil in Deborah Kerr’s shoes.) For real, I would try this.
Some brief comments on our other titular characters, Hope and Trick:
Scott Hope is a dud. Fab Filippo’s run on BtVS stayed mercifully brief, and if I were to enumerate and rank Buffy’s love interests – and let’s be honest, we know that list is coming – Hope would sink into the silt at the river bottom. How much better it might have served the story if Buffy had someone more magnetic to compete with the memory of Angel. Once Buffy discovers Angel’s return (next week!), any hope for Hope is lost. I kind of wish Trick had added Scott to the pile of drained fast food boys in the warehouse lair. I’m sick of him already, despite the tickets to the Buster Keaton film festival.
Mr. Trick is a treat! From his proclivity for snacking on fast food workers to his sociological and statistical observations on Sunnydale, he brings a wit and flair we seldom see in a visiting vampire. K. Todd Freeman’s engaging Trick will enjoy a longer tenure than most of his predecessors, even entering into the borders of the mayor’s storyline, and he’ll get a memorable staking when his time comes, so for now I’ll enjoy his five-episode run and the too-short infusion of a Black presence into the show, recalling the memorable single appearance of the vamp preacher Abasalom in When She Was Bad.
A Few Observations:
We also got our primary monster, the ancient vampire Kakistos, whom Buffy reports to Giles as named Kissing Toast or maybe Taquitos. Again, Buffy’s dismissiveness in not bothering to remember her enemy’s name (is this tied to her eternal struggles in history class?) suggests the forgetability of the enemy himself, much as was the case with Acaltha/Alfalfa/Al Franken, though Kakistos reminds me more of The Judge from Surprise and Innocence, which is to say that while he’s got a good look (with the cloven hoof for a hand), he just doesn’t measure up to the hype, and he’s overshadowed by the vampires surrounding him – here Mr. Trick as opposed to Spike and Drusilla. And if you want an ancient vampire with a great look and an arresting personality to match, look no further than The Master!
Of course the episode concludes with the non-shocker of Angel’s return. It’s somewhat anti-climactic as he’s shown up three times already in Buffy’s dreams – on the beach, at school, in The Bronze – and David Boreanaz still appears in the opening credits. His dropping stark naked onto the ground does offer a visual stun, not unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger et al. in The Terminator franchise:
However, his reappearance from the hell dimension was inevitable, and worse, the explanation, forthcoming in several episodes, leaves much to be desired – or in my case, required. Angel’s great season on Buffy was s2, and his character is already primed for the Angel spin-off. I still enjoy his presence, but the re-introduction feels flat and obligatory to me. Outside of falling out of thin air shimmering, shivering, and naked.
A note on Oz:
Whedon has made a fairly seamless integration of Oz into the Scooby gang. So often, a cast addition can feel like an unwelcome intrusion [Dawn! Connor!], but BtVS does some of its best work easing new people into the show. Last season they started Oz with casual cameos before making him more substantial – and getting him shot! – in What’s My Line Part 2.
A final word on Giles:
In his first scene, Buffy gives him shit for being all business instead of showing her a warm welcome back to school, but in reality he is far more attuned to her than she realizes. The pretense for learning more about her defeat of Angel – ostensibly to guarantee the a seal on Acathla – obscures his intent of forcing a cathartic confession, which he succeeds in garnering once Kakistos has been dispatched. Giles’ growing understanding of his charge is touching and shows how he has expanded the duties of Watcher holistically, with a concern toward Buffy’s well being beyond the physical. Giles may find Americans and teenagers utterly incomprehensible, but he understands one American teenager even better than her family or friends, and his drawing out of her painful, burdensome secret shows him as extraordinarily insightful and caring, qualities which will cost him greatly in a few episodes.
And in closing: