Synopsis: Andrew wants to make a documentary about Buffy as she prepares to save the world. At school the students are increasingly suffering from the power of the Hellmouth. Robin and Buffy decide to interrogate Andrew to find out if they can close the portal in the basement. Xander and Anya talk about their feelings for one another.
The Good: The sense that the coming fight is different to all those that have come before was succesfully hammered home here. It was essentially the third episode in a row where either Buffy or Giles yelled at someone to get serious. This time, accompanied by actual hellmouth horrors and the impending end of the show, it began to sink in.
The Bad: The Andrew story concluded as you would expect a good Buffy tale to conclude. Andrew finally admits that he did know, on some level, that it wasn’t Warren. He murdered Jonathan out of fear and loneliness and greed. His incesant use of pop culture to frame stories was a defence mechanism to avoid the painful realisation of what he’d done. He tearfully recognises the truth and begins his redemption process.
That conclusion was adequate but I’m not sure it justified the preceding forty minutes or his enduring presence this season. Ultimately I don’t enjoy watching the Andrew character. It doesn’t feel like he is ever real. Of course, as this episode demonstrated, that is part of who he is. He uses his geekery to recast himself as something more heroic than he is. But more than that, Andrew always misses the point of serious moments and makes light of them. He always misunderstands people and manages to annoy them. He daydreams about amazing things happening to him but never does anything to realise them. And at the core of the character he is presented as a homosexual who has yet to realise his own sexuality. How else can you explain his obsession with Warren, his portrayal of a topless Spike and his indifference to Willow and Kennedy making out. It’s obviously not his sexuality that I resent. It’s the shows indifference to his confusion. It feels like the show wants Andrew to be permanently in the closet. Permanently blathering so people can roll their eyes. Permanently making light of serious situations because the writers have forgotten how to make things funny.
To have so much Andrew in one episode therefore forced me to repeatedly confront all these grating aspects of his being. The comedy was ultra overt. There was no subtlety, no reality he was satirising or truth he was revealing. It was just a fantasy world making the most obvious images come to life. Andrew the master story teller, Andrew as an Olympian God, Andrew as a suave super villain. Although I felt the humour in Jonathan’s showcase “Superstar” (417) fell repeatedly flat at least the Scoobies could all play straight men to his James Bond. Here the comedy was just silly fantasy with no punch line in sight.
Glimpses into Andrew’s imagination were confusingly combined with lots of documentary footage, real flashbacks and flashbacks with a falty narrator. It was far too much interference with the narrative and almost none of it made any impact. I thought the documentary footage might provide some insight into Scooby matters (see The Unknown) but was used mainly as a new way for Andrew to irritate people. The flashbacks ended up being used to make a jokes about Jonathan’s death. I almost never see the funny side in characters dying. Yet here we not only got some altered perspective to try and make us chuckle about Jonathan being skewered but we got Buffy hitting a punch line as a student explodes from stress.
The school riot was a bizarre choice, entirely manufactured to give us a fight scene. I don’t mind the Hellmouth possesing school children but why would they set up such neat barrels of fire like hobos in winter? Even more strangely when the students snap out of the spell they just walk off as if the lunch bell just went and don’t react to the dystopian redecoration or the sight of their Principal with his fists raised. Buffy also tells Spike not to kill any students which seemed unnecessary given his reensoulment.
Finally Andrew’s tears are enough to win him redemption. Well isn’t that convenient? I mean blood would have been so messy and indicative of the harsh war they’re all entering. But tears? Why, that was as moving as a fairytale kiss lifting a curse. Ok, I wrote that purely for sarcastic punch. Andrew’s tears were a little more effective than Willow and Kennedy’s kiss but it was still patheticly convenient that he didn’t have to suffer more. And why on earth hadn’t he read the carvings on his own knife before?
I have trouble listing all the things I didn’t like about this episode. It was a grating experience. There were awkward cuts like an instant jump from Willow saying she’d look into the knife to having the answer or a clip from the documentary being played during a “live” conversation at school which was weird. You had Andrew complimenting Jonathan on being evil and them both thinking that was cool despite what they’d just been through. Andrew making fun of Buffy’s long speeches annoyed me. If the writers think her speeches are long and dull then why do they keep giving them to her? Uh.
The Unknown: I suppose it was nice to see Xander and Anya acknowledge their feelings for one another and agree to move on. But move on to what? It’s not like there’s much dating to be done as the clock ticks down to Armageddon. And it’s not like they are going to stop spending all their time together. And frankly I wasn’t that pleased that Anya still hadn’t taken in Xander’s reasoning for not marrying her. It felt as if nothing had been done with her character at all in the last year.
I suppose we learnt how Bringers are created which was something.
Best Moment: Andrew admitting his guilt. But the only gag I saw the craft in was Spike pretending to be annoyed at Andrew for the camera. But even in that moment I question whether Spike would really care if posterity thought he was a hard nosed, wise cracking man. He seems to have embraced a return to cigarettes and sarcasm a little too heartily for someone suffering from centuries of guilt.
The Bottom Line: This was the antithesis of Buffy comedy which has always been about undercutting serious tension and not drowning in syruppy nonsense. And I think Andrew is the antithesis of a Buffy character. The Scoobies are outsiders who found themselves and acceptance on the Hellmouth through goodness. Andrew is someone who always makes light of evil. And is forever unable and unwilling to discover who he really is.