Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | March 26, 2012

Cordia’s Review: S4, E03 – The Harsh Light of Day

The Harsh Light of Day
Season 4, Episode 3
Original airing: 10/19/1999

My Rating: 72

The Good: This episode is all about the relationships. The episode does an excellent job of interweaving three storylines in an organic and potent manner. Buffy and Parker’s relationship is a classic example of a manipulative boy focused only on sex. But it’s by no means the only important part of the episode. Xander and Anya’s relationship explores things from the other side with the woman as the aggressor. While Harmony and Spike’s relationship is openly abusive, something the show gets away with because the two characters are heartless vampires. And yet, there’s a lot of pain in that relationship as well.

One of the biggest appreciations of this episode is that it allowed Buffy’s second sexual experience to have nothing to do with demons, and yet it mirrors her experience with Angel. Her behavior also makes a lot of sense. She’s only been in one real relationship and it was extremely serious. It makes sense that her next attempt would lead to her desire to make it an actual relationship and her belief that sex would come naturally out of that. But Parker manages to manipulate her without actually promising commitment. And then he makes it seem so reasonable to Buffy at the end that she questions her own worth. This all fits rather well with the self-esteem problems we already know Buffy has and the problems many teenage girls face. Her questions of “Why doesn’t he want me?” are universal and painful.

Anya and Xander’s relationship is almost a mirror of Buffy and Parker’s, except Anya isn’t being maliciously manipulative. She’s being aggressively straight forward, but also careless. She obviously doesn’t care how Xander feels about her, until the end. She’s focused on getting what she wants and understanding her own feelings. It’s only after they’ve had sex that she realizes she cares how he feels. But then she loses her ability to be straightforward because admitting the sex wasn’t enough would be admitting she was wrong. And she’s still not used to being a confused, fallible human. But Xander is not the only victim here. He does nothing to attempt to explain the situation to Anya or not have sex with her. While that’s understandable (he is a teenage boy), he then treats her as unimportant afterwards. So it’s really on both sides here.

But the most powerful relationship, I thought, was Spike and Harmony’s. Not only was Spike visibly disdainful of Harmony, he verbally and physically abused her as well. The show was able to play with both sides of this, having Harmony enjoy it at first, and then having her admit that she just doesn’t understand it. She’s obviously latched onto Spike during her new experiences as a vampire, and he’s happy to keep her around for sex. But it’s not any more than that. At the end, Spike even tries to kill Harmony and seems ready to rip her finger off her hand. The entire experience leaves Harmony hurt in a very similar way to Buffy. Both are wondering what they did wrong when it really wasn’t their fault.

One thing I really found impressive about this episode was how they wove all of these stories together while making them all feel distinct and important. It even took me a minute to realize all of the sexual encounters had happened on the same night, which could have come across as very scripted and cheesy. But everything was so separated, it was easy to forget it was all happening at once.

The Bad: While I don’t really feel the Gem of Amara was a negative in the episode, I didn’t really feel it was all that important either. The concept of a gem which makes vampires unkillable is effectively glossed over when the gem is sent on to Angel. And while it led to a brilliant fight between Buffy and Spike, the important parts of this episode could have shone just as brightly without its presence. Plus, it felt a little bit like overkill to have the gem vampires had been searching for for centuries be in Sunnydale. Is every demon artifact in Sunnydale? How is this town still around?

The other thing I found annoying about this episode were the “getting to know you” conversations between Buffy and Parker. It was stated early on that they had been spending time together all week, and yet we see them talking about what Parker’s major is and Buffy’s hobbies. It felt very elementary for the level of conversation they should have been having after multiple implied dates.

Favorite Moment: I love the realism of the moment when Anya kisses Xander and then the timer goes off on the dryer. I think it mirrors real life very nicely because moments aren’t always perfect. I like that she handles it by just reminding him to put in softener.

The Bottom Line: The major strength of this episode is definitely in the relationships. As always, Buffy shines in her vulnerability, but the Xander/Anya and Spike/Harmony relationships were also extremely well done. What makes this episode shine so much in my eyes is how it could exist outside the Buffy universe. They are classic stories about relationships which could be told in almost any forum.

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