Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | March 26, 2012

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

Synopsis: Spike returns to Sunnydale with Harmony on his arm and minions drilling underground. He is looking for the gem of Amarra, the Vampire Holy Grail. Buffy is seeing Parker regularly and she sleeps with him after lots of talk about living for today. The next day she searches for Spike while he fails to call. Spike finds the ring and tossing Harmony aside takes Buffy on. Meanwhile Anya seeks out Xander and suggests that they sleep together.

The Good: This was a lot of fun. It was well paced and captured three interesting love stories while delivering action and entertainment.

Television is such a male dominated industry that it takes great skill to tell a compelling story about a woman’s romantic struggles and keep men interested. The story of Buffy and Parker was a very strong effort and ended up telling the non-metaphor version of Buffy and Angel’s first night together. The presentation of Parker was cleverly handled. He was respectful to a tee and told the story of a burgeoning relationship without ever committing himself to anything. It was a great balancing act between actor and script where he could play the manipulator without ever giving the game away. When Buffy finally catches up with him a couple of days later he is all innocence. I loved the moment when he pretended to think she might be about to hurt his feelings (“my ego is fragile”), this was clearly not his first time. It was a clever portrayal of someone who took something using white lies and whose conscience clearly wasn’t troubled by it.

Buffy was of course terrific in her role. From her perspective a relationship was developing and sex was an expression of that. Her vulnerability during their confrontation was pitch perfect. Even though she could figure out what was going on she didn’t want to ruin things just in case she was wrong. So she is polite to a fault and tries hard not to seem pushy or unreasonable. Even when she agrees with Willow that Parker has deceived her she can’t help but look inwards and wonder if the fault is hers and hope he might change his mind. Again the portrayal of insecurity was terrific and this kind of simple three act storyline is so much more effective than the endless twists of soap opera.

Below the ground everyone’s favourite villain Spike makes his return. He was very much the B story here but still sparkled in the moments he was given. James Marsters wears the part like a second skin at this point and every twitch conveys more than the script could possibly have given him. He instantly forms a compelling new dynamic with the hapless Harmony who he treats with contempt. Her amusing interruptions and cries of “Blondie Bear” really make for good TV when combined with his potential for violence. The abuse he dishes out is far more visceral than what Parker did but it’s more honest. Harmony is hopelessly in love though and he remains hung up on Drusilla, which showed nice continuity. He provides the physical threat to Buffy and despite the stunt doubles their fight was pretty solid and allowed for him to get some choice insults in.

The final “relationship” on display sees blunt and persistent Anya seduce Xander with a well argued case for sex. She doesn’t understand her feelings for him at all and neither does he leading to the brilliant exchange as they get dressed (Best Moment).

This episode had a delicious title. It’s rare that one phrase could link so brilliantly two aspects of a plot together (especially vampire limitations and sexual regret). I liked the continuity from Graduation Day with both Buffy’s neck scar and Harmony having been turned. She took our understanding of human\vampire personalities to a new level as little seemed to have changed in her since becoming immortal. There was also the continuity of Buffy waking up after sex alone again (214) which added to her trepidation. We got a nice couple of Giles moments: first he actively avoided asking where Buffy had spent the night and later his ownership of a TV was used as a nice comedy moment to distract us from the plot contrivance of a news report.

The Bad: I’m always amused by bands playing slow dance songs on Buffy as I so rarely see that in real life. But here the music changed on cue as Parker asked Buffy to dance which was amusing. The final shot of Buffy, Anya and Harmony all walking in the same shot was a bit much. It made me want to yell “Hey Buffy, look over there, it’s a vampire!”

The Unknown: You will obviously need to go watch Angel to see what he will do with the Gem of Amarra. I’m not aware of two shows using continuity as skilfully and directly as Buffy and Angel did during this season. If I were watching this live I might complain about the Gem of Amarra being such a throwaway storyline considering the radical implications of a ring making a vampire immortal. However as I know the story will continue over on Angel I will keep quiet.

Best Moment: Anya argued that having sex with Xander would rid her of the feelings which drove her back to Sunnydale. As they awkwardly dress after the event she announces unconvincingly “So, I’m over you now.” Xander, sounding confused says “Umm, Ok?” Anya turns to him annoyed and says “Ok?!” He (confusedly) replies “Yeah?”  before she storms out. It was a terrific bit of character comedy that captured their contrasting emotions neatly.

The Bottom Line: This was a quality episode of television. Despite the presence of Spike and the ring of Amarra this was actually a third college-life story for Buffy. In that respect it was a real success and captured her emotions in a way that many can relate to. The fact that we got such good B and C stories to back it up and that everything flowed together so smoothly is what pushes it to a greater height.

70/100

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