Sep 10 2012 2:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Let’s Get Interlocking!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Harsh Light of Day

Say what you will about S4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I love the credits. The clips seem extra-delicious, perhaps especially the ones of Giles. The suit! The chainsaw! It’s a small thing, but this montage makes me happy. I’m just sayin’.

“Harsh Light of Day” takes us back to the Bronze. You’d think a bunch of college kids would be too cool for their old high school hangout, but Dingoes Ate My Baby have a gig there, which gives everyone a legitimate excuse except maybe Parker. He’s there too, not quite out on a date with Buffy but date-adjacent. He makes the highly chivalrous offer to walk her home and she pretends she needs an escort.

And speaking of the good old days, as the band is packing its gear, Harmony turns up. She’s a vampire now, and she catches Willow off-guard, getting close enough to actually take a bite out of her. Oz helps fight her off. “Nyah nyah, hide behind your boyfriend!” is Harmony’s pouty and slightly weird reaction. She follows up with the info that her boyfriend’s going to come and get ’em—the vamp’s equivalent of my dad can beat up your dad, I guess—before she huffs off.

Parker, meanwhile, is showing Buffy that he comes fully loaded with teh angsty sensitive. He wants to know if she has hobbies, ponders her neck scar, and finally tells her his dad died—we feel terrible for him, don’t we?—and so he’s living for now. “Now,” in this case, being sleazy code for “lots of sex with as many young women as I can catch.” He follows this up with an invite to a party. Buffy accepts.

Anya has mating on the brain, too. She has returned to Sunnydale, decked out in a voluminous brunette wig that only lasts a week, to demand that Xander tell her where their relationship is going. Since the last he saw of her, Anya was fleeing the Mayor in terror, this catches Xander off-guard. It probably doesn’t help that the “we have to talk” inquisition begins in the presence of Giles. At least she didn’t say “orgasm friend.” Yet.

But by now we’re deep into plot: Harmony’s boyfriend turns out to be Spike! Three cheers! And WillOz have caught up with Buffy and let her know about the attack.

Spike and Harmony have a thoroughly icky relationship. Like Parker, he’s in it for the sex; being Spike, though, he doesn’t bother to hide his contempt for her the rest of the time. I can’t help thinking he’s already falling for Buffy. He’s still wanting to bag a third Slayer—that seems obvious enough later in the episode—but Harmony’s little, blonde and arguably cute. She doesn’t have much else to recommend her except a superficial resemblance to Buffy and the fact that she’s willing to put up with him.

The four of them—Buffy and Parker, Spike and Harmony—collide at the party. It’s like a toxic spontaneous double date. There’s some wonderful taunting back and forth between Spike and Buffy about who’s dating whom. It all comes off like angry ex-partner banter, and one can hardly blame Parker for wondering if the two of them were together at some point. Before long the vampires bail, and to Spike’s chagrin, Harmony spills that they’re after the Gem of Amara.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Harsh Light of Day

This, sadly, doesn’t keep Buffy from going back to Parker and ending up in bed with him, which might be a pretty fine thing to do if she wasn’t completely mistaken about his intentions. The scene is set up to contrast with the empty, distasteful Spike/Harmony sex and to the moves Anya is, simultaneously, putting on Xander.

Ah, Anya. She’s so adorable in her Spock-like you humans and your crazy sex appeal way. She’s trying the show up naked and be totally honest approach to getting some: “It’s ridiculous to have these interlocking bodies and not interlock.”

(Actually, Anya’s lying, too—to herself—if she thinks that making love to Xander will sever her emotional ties to him.) But part A of the plan works: he notes that she’s got more romance in her soul than Faith on a tear and duly jumps in.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Harsh Light of Day

Next morning, Buffy wakes up alone and has an uneasy moment. Has Parker lost his soul too? Is he even now plotting the death of everyone she knows? Or did he just need coffee? The latter, it turns out—he comes back, and all seems well.

“I’ll call you,” he says. Yeah, right.

Buffy goes back to the dorm and finds Giles and Willow in research mode, chasing down the Gem of Amara clue. Initially, the thing was supposed to be a myth. Now, maybe, it’s looking like it might exist, which is problematic since it’ll make a vampire immortal... wait, immortaller? Impervious to sunlight and stakes, anyway, and presumably fire and holy water too. What about rocket launchers?

The girls find time for a bit of a squee over the Parker hook-up. The worm has already turned, though: Parker has embarked on an aggressive and distracting-to-Buffy campaign of not making that phone call.

While the Slayer’s head is full of Boy Trouble, Spike breaks into a tomb full of treasure. Harmony finds the one true ring, and we get a live demonstration of the Gem of Amara’s power when he tries and fails to dust her. He also collapses part of a highway, which makes his base of operations somewhat easy for the Scoobies to find. They arrive to find Harmony still down in the tunnels, having a good cry over having fallen for an uncaring bastard.

And, speaking of, Buffy runs Parker to ground and sees he’s working on his next freshman conquest. He’s gleefully blowing her off when Spike shows up, in full daylight, and bops her in the face. They fight, he’s foolish enough to bring up Angel, and soon enough she gets the ring. Spike is forced to flee or go up in flames.

Spike’s return to Sunnydale in “Harsh Light of Day” is such a good development. He’s largely his bad-ass self here—bent on mayhem and revenge, but not to the exclusion of having a little fun. This is the Spike of “School Hard,” the one who couldn’t quite wait until the vampire holy day to go after Buffy. Maybe he’s not quite as funny as the so-drunk, Dru-lamenting Spike of “Lovers Walk,” but he’s not pathetic. He’s a creditable threat, and James Marsters—as always—brings a welcome sizzle to the story.

As the episode wraps up, Buffy decides, not surprisingly, to give the ring to Angel. Willow tells Xander not to make a fuss and Oz offers to be the delivery wolf. All that remains is the emotional fallout from all that interlocking. Buffy and Willow discuss Parker’s general state of poopheadedness, while Harmony wanders, lost, and eventually drifts to L.A. for a short appearance on Angel. Anya finds that a taste of Xander was no damned cure for all her inconvenient lusty feelings.

So, really, everyone’s sad but Willow. Good thing she’s found tru luv 4evs, huh?

Next week: a wee tiny taste of fear.


A.M. Dellamonica has two novelettes up here on Her “baby werewolf has two mommies,” story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales.

In October, watch for her novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

john mullen
1. johntheirishmongol
Do I have to say again how much I despise Parker? What a slimeball. Spike is pretty much a slime here too, but who expects more from him than that. And he has shown in the past that he does care about Dru in his own way. Harmony's whining deserves some kind of punishment.

Anyway the ring led to the first crossover plot. I still think Angel's idea of destroying it was very weak. He could have always stored it away or given it to Buffy to hide for him later.
Alyx Dellamonica
2. AMDellamonica
Yes, I agree--silly Angel! It was also quite odd to only watch the BtVS half of this crossover.
Gardner Dozois
3. Gardner Dozois
Pretty much another wheel-spinner, in terms of the eventual overall arc of the season. The fight between Buffy and Spike was good. I was always amused by Xander's reaction when Anya shows up naked in his room and says "Let's do it!"--"STILL more romantic than Faith." Which makes you wonder if Faith's approach was anything more "romantic" than throwing him down and ripping his pants open.

Although it's out of our purview here, taking place on another show, I agree with John that it was very silly of Angel to destroy the Ring, indicating a serious lack of forethought on his part--it certainly would have come in handy when he was fighting several Apocalyptic monsters later in the show.
Gardner Dozois
4. joelfinkle
johntheirishmongol: Parker gets what's coming to him: several concussions in one day from Cro-Mag-Buffy and harshly mocked by Willow -- hard to say which is worse.
Gardner Dozois
5. nancym
Spike is always a "welcome sizzle"- for me, anyway. Love his character.

I really just wanted to say that I saw Nerf Herder in concert once. "This is how we pay the bills!" they shouted, as they launched into the Buffy theme. Laughter and moshing ensued.
6. JimmyMac80
I'm pretty sure Spike doesn't start falling for Buffy until Who Are You, when Faith as Buffy says,
"'Cause I can do anything I want, and instead I choose to pout and whine and feel the burden of Slayerness? I mean, I could be rich. I could be famous. I could have anything. Anyone. Even you, Spike. I could ride you at a gallop until your legs buckled and your eyes rolled up. I've got muscles you've never even dreamed of. I could squeeze you until you popped like warm champagne, and you would beg me to hurt you just a little bit more. And you know why I don't? (pauses) Because it's wrong."(emphasis added)

As for Angel, he's a complete idiot, he should have cut himself open and stuck the ring in. Which Spike should have done as well instead of showing Buffy where his one weakness is.
Gardner Dozois
7. Enkidu
Here's what gets me about Parker, and what puts me on the opposite side of the unanimous hate-train: he's one of the most villified male characters of the Buffyverse, but he's also the least controlling of any male love interest in the series.

In BtVS, the norm for men is to be what I would consider dangerously possessive of their love interest -- it's pretty significant that the least controlling one in the series is Angel, who started out stalking a teenager before graduating to Edward Cullen-esque watching her in her sleep, and after breaking up with her beating up her new boyfriend. Aside from Angel we have Oz, who completely loses control and tries to kill Tara when he finds out Willow's dating her long after he broke up with her. We have Spike, whose first date with Buffy involved kidnapping her and whose last pre-soul encounter with her involved attempted rape. We have Xander, who despite being rejected by Buffy takes it upon himself to decide who she's allowed to date with Angel and Spike and, with Riley, whether she's even allowed to break up with that person or not. And speaking of Riley, we've got a guy who leaves town and gives his girlfriend of less than a year an ultimatum because she had the audacity to sleep with him without planning to spending the rest of her life with him.

So Parker's big crime is, basically, being the only male in the series who doesn't think he owns the girl he's dating. Much later in the season he'll spontaneously start to insult her and belittle her, but right now? He doesn't talk down to her, or shame her, or disrespect her in any way. It's only afterwards that he starts to retroactively turn into a jerk. Parker doesn't lie to Buffy when she confronts him, he tells her honestly that he's not looking for a committed relationship and seems genuinely appologetic that she felt betrayed. From there he becomes the most reviled male in the series because he was the only male character who could let a girl go without trying to murder one of her exes or rape her, which for a show that ends on the note of a group of women freeing themselves from the control of men is kind of ironic.
Kat Blom
8. pro_star
JimmyMac - I wonder something, with the immortality, if you cut yourself open and stick a foreign object in, wouldn't your vampy body try to force it out again? We never did see that with Angel and the bullet in...oh what was that Season Two episode: Only have eyes for you or something? With Buffy and Angel all possessed-like?

Maybe there was an instance later on, it's been a few years since I've seen the later episodes...sadly my dvd collection only has seasons 2-4...really should work on that.

Enkidu - I think the big bad here was that he was such a cold and only using sex for sex's sake that it shocked us all in the series. As you pointed out, other relationships (Faith and Xander aside) have been Big Freakin Deals...and sex was a HUGE FREAKIN DEAL OF INTIMACY AND CLOSENESS. (again, barring Faith and Xander...and notice how shocked Xander was when he thought he had the closeness...)

The Scoobys all seemed to believe it was this magical act of closeness...which I think is WHY Parker was considered such a poopy-head.
Jason Parker
9. tarbis
This is one of those episodes that feels like the writer got a stack of notes about what needed to happen (bad one night stand, re-introduce Spike, re-introduce Anya, set up a crossover with Angel) and none on the actual plot. It's the same kind of problem that the prom episode had and leaves the whole thing feeling a little meh.

Parker comes off the worst in this episode because his is a human kind of bad. Their are a lot of people that knew someone on either the Parker or Buffy end of that night and that makes it more personal. (It also puts this episode in the ranks of common college experience episodes.) If the domestic abuse between Spike and Harmony had been any less cartoonish then it would have been the big tragic note of the episode instead of the Parker mess. Maybe it should have been, but the show had spent 2.5 years making the audience hate Harmony and we weren't empathize with her easily. (On the upside she was excellent comic relief in season 5 before making showing up in season 2 of Angel.)

The fate of the ring was exactly what had to happen to it. It would have been an unbalancing plot device and a cheat on the redemptive themes of "Angel" as a series. (Crushing it also underlined the hard road to redemption theme of the series.) Besides who would want the ring on Angelus's hand if he slipped the leash again or on the hand of an Angel that had stopped valuing humans as individuals (Doyle's concern in the pilot). Better from writer's room and character point of view to be rid of it.
Scott Jenkins
10. SAJ14SAJ
In regards to Angel getting rid of the ring: sure, ja, stupid, you betcha, from Angel's perspective.

But for the writers, they needed him back with some limits and vulnerabilities so superpower creep was slowed down.... I thought the writers bones showed too much in that, which parallels the comment above about the writer of this episode having a bunch of plot points to hit....
David Goldfarb
11. David_Goldfarb
We should note the comic book reference here: the Buffy episode was "The Harsh Light of Day", and the Angel episode was "The Dark of Night", and the plot revolved around a magic ring with a green stone. "In brightest day, in blackest night..."
Andrew Love
12. AndyLove
"He wants to know if she has hobbies, ponders her neck scar, and finally
tells her his dad died—we feel terrible for him, don’t we?—and so he’s
living for now."

I was so sure that Parker was the dead deputy mayor's son...
Constance Sublette
13. Zorra
@7. Enkidu

You are neglecting the huge elephant in the bedroom of why he's hated: he seduces women as an ego boo game for himself. He tells LIES to assist the seduction. He even gets a kick out of their almost inevitable hurt when he dumps them. He talks about them and their sexual encounters to other guys, making fun of the girl -- which is breaking the number one rule of a gentleman, or gentlewoman, you do NOT kiss and tell. Which is why Riley decked him.

In other words he IS a slimeball and the Beer Bad Buff that klonks him with the clue stick after saving his sorry ass is perfectly justified in the klonking.

Love, C.
14. JimmyMac80
@ pro_star, I'm pretty sure there's an episode of Angel where they have to dig a bullet out of him, but I can't remember what that is. Even if I'm wrong the Ring of Amara should cause the wound to immediately close up with the Ring inside. Absolute worse case scenario Angel should just swallow the Ring.
Alyx Dellamonica
15. AMDellamonica
Hahah! Such a great quote, JimmyMac! We could totally have a "When did Spike fall for Buffy?" convo. Because I'm seeing obsession already, and there's a fine line between obsesso-hate and obsesso-the-other-thing.

Zorra, I am with you. It's not the casual sex itself that makes Parker a slimeball. It's his motives, added to all the other behavior.

Endiku, I do see what you're saying, and you're not wrong that Parker gets called out for this behavior and the more likable recurring guys skate on their bad acts.

SAJ--I get why the writers needed the ring to be gone. They needed a better excuse.

I love the idea of Angel swallowing the ring and then deciding it should go.
Jason Parker
16. tarbis
The writer's didn't need a better excuse for getting rid of the ring. They just needed to mention the elephant in the room.

The risk of Angelus with the ring of being very hard to kill overrides the advantage of Angel having the same ring. Imagine the damage that an Angelus who could pass for human would be capable of.

Apparently it needed to be made explict for a number of viewers that Angel is more than a little afraid of himself and that fear is not without a basis in reality. It is however kind of sweet that Buffy trusts him more than he trusts himself.
Gardner Dozois
17. Gardner Dozois
That's a good point, Tarbis. You can't make Angel invulnerable without potentially making Angelus invulnerable too, since the possibility that Angel will turn into Angelus always exists.
Gardner Dozois
18. jadesfire
I think the ring needed to be destroyed because Angel + ring just would have made for bad/boring TV. Angel would have been too close to Superman for him to ever seem truly threatened or in danger. And every other episode plot would have been about someone trying to get the ring, getting the ring, Angel needing to get the ring back, etc. Doesn't sound like that fun a show to watch.

Also, Alyx--loving the recaps. I'm rewatching Buffy right now with someone who has never seen it before and coincidentally we've been pretty much on track with you ever since Season 2. It's great to check in and hear your thoughts and analysis.
Gardner Dozois
19. Gardner Dozois
That's a good point too, jadesfire, although I was trying to think why the CHARACTER would want to destroy it. The show-runners have motivations of their own, though, and they're commissioning the scripts!
Emma Rosloff
20. emmarosloff
Personally, I never understood the whole invincibility-ring plot (although it sounds like it might be a veiled comic book reference, surprise surprise). It's one of those moments where the boundaries of the worldbuilding start to wear thin for me, and I try not to think too hard about the possible consequences of such an item, for fear that everything the ring implies might come rushing in and drown out my sense of disbelief.

I know that it's not an easy thing for Spike to come by, but with all the powerful demons and witches and sorcerers out there, and all the time that's elapsed in the Buffyverse, I can't help but wonder... surely this can't be the only item of such power, and surely there exists those powerful enough to craft such a thing (Willow herself seems capable of anything, after a point). So why then is this the only time we encounter it? It smacks so hard of a plot device that I find myself clutching my head, groaning.

I do love Spike, however, and that he is re-entering the plot here (for good) makes me squeal in impatient delight. I actually thought his relationship with Harmony was rather telling -- yeah, I'm sure at the core of it he just wants to get some, but she's totally his rebound as he tries to move on from his Sire and undead-long lover dumping him. The fact that he needs a rebound; some kind of romantic relationship, however dysfunctional, tells me that Spike is still a romantic underneath the prevailing souless creep, and still looking for that "special" someone.

As for him and Buffy, I totally agree -- he's already fixated on her, because he's obsessed with killing Slayers and she's the ultimate conquest. I love, Alyx, your observation about their conversation at the party -- already there's that tension, that strange, twisted chemistry that contiues to carry between them, and for Spike, turns on a dime from loathing to love. So. Good.

As far as giving the ring to Angel, I'd have thought Buffy would've known better, because my first thought (and this seemed apparent while I was watching the Angel episode) was what if he ever became Angelus again? I suppose it is an incredible gesture of good faith, that she gives it to him. But it seems a little careless to then entrust it with Oz and just kind of hope it gets to him.

And when Angel crushes it like it's nothing special... I was reminded of Harry Potter of all things (SPOILER if you haven't read the last HP book ahead!!) when he snaps the Elder Wand in half and tosses it into the river like (even though it's the most powerful object in the world) it's really no big deal. Something about that rings false to me, seems incongruous. I expect such an item to be as hard to unmake as it was to make, more like Lord of the Rings. There's something reassuring about that to me.

But I know this is not the first (or the last) time that the Buffyverse stretches the worldbuilding thin, and that's okay, because it's a lot to expect a coherent world week-by-week. It's not as if the whole thing were planned out beforehand, so as I've said in the past, I can forgive Joss a lot, for how good the writing and worldbuilding are, overall.

A quick comment about Parker... I actually thought it was a good storytelling moment. Here's tough-as-nails Buffy Summers, thwarting terror unimaginable on the daily and yet she's innocently drawn in by this boy's everyday "moves". It's disarming because as much as she's trained to fight vampires and demons she's never had the time to develop keen senses in the dating arena. She's not expecting to be played, and we're not expecting it, either.

It highlights how her role as the "Chosen One" has really stunted her growth as a person in other ways, and how tough it must be for her to balance it all, and to look for love in spite of her life's calling. Small wonder she ends up with "men" so far outside the arena of normal. The closest she comes is Riley, and we all know how well that ends.
Alyx Dellamonica
21. AMDellamonica
Tarbis, yes. Excellent point. I suppose you're right: I did want it to be explicit. Sometimes I want that bit of connective tissue in a story.

Jadesfire--I'm so glad you're enjoying them.

Emma, yes. Something that powerful should be hard to unmake! Good point!
Gardner Dozois
23. NullNix
I don't think "my boyfriend will get you!" is a typical vamp reaction at all - we never see any such reaction from any vampire on the show before or after this. It is, however, a pitch-perfect Harmony reaction. (It says something about the delicacy of character-building on the show that even Harmony has somehow acquired enough character that you know this about her by this point, even though she's probably had no more than ten minutes on-screen in total.)
Gardner Dozois
24. JMH
I know this was a long time ago, and nobody else mentioning it has shattered my confidence in my memory... But I was always very sure Spike was already at least half in love with Buffy at this point, because I was very sure that Dru said that's why she dumped him. Because he had Buffy's smell (or something similarly metaphorical) all over him and wasn't hers anymore.
Alyx Dellamonica
25. AMDellamonica
As I'm watching them, @JMH (I'm at the end of S4 right now) I would say he's intrigued, but perhaps not yet in love. When he comes 'round to really believing it, I think it's obvious. But I'm saying that not having re-visited S5 yet.

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